Honouring Manamea’s motto: Love is bigger than cancer

The garden of the Orator Hotel was packed to the rafters on Tuesday night during the celebration of the mission of the late Manamea Schwalger, the woman who has become the face of the fight against cancer.

This Pinktober fundraising event is a regular item on the calendar, but with one difference – Samoa lost Manamea to her own cancer battle just months ago.

For Tuesday’s concert, her friend Maryjane McKibbin Shwenke is continuing the trailblazing work of Manamea, by ensuring the Apia clock tower was once again painted pink, and by bringing her Pacific culture dance group to Samoa for a spectacular night of fundraising.

Hosts Maiava Viiga Fuimaono and outgoing Miss Samoa Papali’i Alexandra Iakopo said the biggest goal for the event was to raise awareness to the public of the dangers of cancer, and the importance of knowing the symptoms so that early treatment can be sought. 

Papali’i said while Samoa may be lacking in treatment facilities, the sooner the cancer is found, the sooner more options like travelling abroad for treatment can be looked at.

“You might think you’re resilient to cancer, but we’re not super humans, you have to get checked often,” she said.

Giving remarks at the concert, deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa said one does not need statistics to see the alarming increase in cases of cancer in Samoa.

“In our small community, we will all know someone affected by the disease,” she said.

“Some mourn quietly and carry on, and others have become champions: one such champion is Manamea Schwalger, who despite battling the advanced stages of cancer, got government approval to paint our clock tower pink.”

Fiame also honoured Ms McKibbin Shwenke as the “mastermind” of the evenings event, and commended her for making the journey home to Samoa with her dance group.

Cancer Society vice president Alise Stunnenberg said Ms McKibbin Shwenke’s work is invaluable for the Cancer Society.

“We are very fortune Maryjane took it upon herself to continue Manamea’s work this Pinktober,” she said.

Helping people talk more opening about this disease is an important component of Pinktober, said Ms Stunnenberg.

“The word cancer often instils fear in people’s minds, but we have to break that down.

“There are many cancer survivors out there living meaningful lives, it is possible.”

Cutting through the embarrassment or nerves around seeing your doctor can be the difference between treating your cancer and living with it to the bitter end, said Ms Stunnenberg.

Support for the society enables it to maintain a team of nurses who care for cancer patients around Upolu, and recently a donated car has meant the nurses can visit people at home and ensure they get medication.

Fundraising and marketing manager Verona Parker said the society is looking at sponsoring certain cancer patients who can’t always afford the long trips into Apia to get to their doctor’s appointments or collect their prescriptions.

“People will always give to others before they look after themselves, so we want to be able to support patients to get the treatment they need too,” said Ms Parker.

As the fundraising manager, Ms Parker knows how much help is needed to keep the society doors open, which is why events like this one make such a difference. 

During the night, Manamea’s husband Alan Schwalger stood to say a few words.

“Tonight is about raising awareness of cancer, but it is also a source of comfort for me and my children, and a testament to our children’s endurance,” he said.

To honour their mother, Manamea’s daughters and son performed the opening prayer for the event, “How Great Thou Art”.

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