Kolini, a Tongan mother of four from West Auckland, shares her story about being diagnosed with breast cancer just two months ago. She says speaking out about her journey has taken away her fear of the unknown, and she’s passionate about helping the Pacific community to know about breast cancer.
Last November I start feeling pain in my chest. I thought it was my heart because my father had died from a heart condition, so I went to see my GP straight away. She examined me and did a blood test to rule everything out. The results came back all clear but she did find a lump on my left breast and I still had the pain, so she sent an urgent referral to the breast clinic. Christmas passed and I waited for the holiday season to be over but I still didn’t hear any news, so at the end of January I asked my GP to follow up. In February I called the breast clinic myself and they told me they’d received my referral and I was on the waiting list. I then made the decision to go private as I was so desperate for an answer. But I got a call back straight away to say they could see me on 4 March.
I went in for the mammogram and afterwards they asked me to wait for 10 minutes while two doctors studied the results. Twenty minutes later I was still waiting and I had a strong sense something was wrong. A nurse came and asked me in for an ultrasound. Throughout it the tears were flowing. Seeing the doctor’s concerned face, I just knew things weren’t normal. Afterwards she told me I had a large tumour located in the same spot where I was feeling the pain I also had smaller tumours scattered in both breasts. On 11 March I had a biopsy and six days later they confirmed I had breast cancer.
That morning felt like a death sentence. I’m only 42, never in a million years did I think I’d get cancer. I know many ladies who have been through it, but I never thought it would happen to me. I’m a Christian and I prayed and relied on my faith. I was so scared, thinking of my four boys.
I had a lumpectomy on 3 April and since then have been trying to stay strong and positive. I had my lymph nodes tested and that came back negative, so I was happy the cancer had not spread.
With my four boys, I sat them down and we talked, even before I had the mammogram. Then when I got the diagnosis I told them the cancer would not get me, we would continue living life normally. I told them about the side effects of treatment. They had so many questions for me and I stayed strong for them, I didn’t want them to be upset or have their life impacted by this.
I’m so thankful for the resources given to me by Breast Cancer Foundation NZ (BCFNZ), especially the comic book. My boys love reading it and it explains cancer so clearly. When my parcel arrived from BCFNZ it was the boys who opened it, it was like Christmas for them, they were that excited. The pack included a heart-shaped pillow, which was meant to be a support for me after surgery. But my youngest boy cuddles it all the time, I always have to ask him for it back.
Ever since my diagnosis I’ve been researching all about cancer. Before, I was scared and upset, but learning about it has turned me into a more positive person. I’m trying to see it as a blessing. By learning the science behind it we understand more, and talking about it takes away the fear. I’m trying to turn this into something positive by sharing my story. I’ve been journaling and sharing my story on Facebook to help me get through it.
So many of my friends have written to me saying they’ve been grateful for me speaking out. In my community many Pacific women don’t like to speak out, so they don’t know much about cancer. I hope that when they see me speak out, other Pacific women going through this journey will feel encouraged and supported. I want to make sure they look after their own health. Many people think you only get cancer when you’re older, so when they see me they can see cancer can happen at any age. So, I say to them they must get checked out, don’t be afraid.
My two older boys are always checking up on me, asking how I’m feeling. I have also received so much support and encouragement from my wonderful husband Vili through all of this. I want to fight this for them. I now know that cancer can happen to anyone and I want to spread that message. With all the learning I’ve done, my life has changed lot with how I see things. There are so many things that I appreciate more and I’ve realised there are so many little things I can let go. Like, it’s not going to hurt me if the house isn’t spotlessly clean all the time, and I don’t need to wear make up every day. I have learnt to enjoy life. There are so many things my eyes were never open to before.
At church three years ago, I was involved with organising a Pink Ribbon Breakfast. Now that I’ve been diagnosed, the pink ribbon means so much more to me. I’m so thankful for the kindness and generosity the BCFNZ nurses have shown me. I know that I can go to them with any questions I have, they are so knowledgeable. And having someone to turn to that isn’t family has meant so much to me. I just want to get involved with whatever I can, now that I’m in ‘the circle’, I’m so grateful.
I was told I’d need radiation and chemo, so I’m still waiting to hear when that will happen. I don’t know yet how much or how often I’ll need it. I know that every woman who has breast cancer goes through it differently. My message for other women is that we can fight this. Reach out to organisations like BCFNZ because we can’t do it on our own. Be strong for ourselves and our loved ones. I view all other women who are being diagnosed with breast cancer as heroes. We are all walking this journey and we have our own walks to do, individually. But we can all stay strong and we can all fight this together. So, Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers out there who are also fighting breast cancer.
Kolini is 42 and lives in Henderson, Auckland, with her husband and four sons who are 16, 14, 9 and 7.