Standing in solidarity to fight cancer

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 04 October 2017, 12:00AM

And so Samoa’s most iconic landmark has turned pink. 

For the first time in history, the Town Clock, in the heart of Apia, has been repainted for a very special campaign.

October, as some of us would know, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

It’s how the famous term, Pinktober, was coined because during this month throughout the world, there is a strong push to raise funds and awareness on how to stop the spread of the disease.

Samoa has thrown her weight behind the campaign, locally driven by the Samoa Cancer Society Inc and their wonderful supporters. 

The mere fact the government had approved for the Town Clock to be repainted pink is a strong indication of the level of support the campaign has garnered.

At the launch, Samoa Cancer Society Chief Executive Officer, Shelley Burich, said every opportunity to promote the importance of early detection when it came to cancer was gold for them.

“It is about raising awareness on breast cancer; pushing the messages of early detection, seeking early intervention; acknowledging those who are fighting breast cancer and honoring those who have passed on,” she said about the campaign.

Why is this important? Well, breast cancer remains the highest killer disease among the female population.

“Just last year, we’ve had 90 new cancer cases referred to the Samoa Cancer Society and 60 per cent of those cases were females,” said Ms. Burich. 

“Out of that 60%; 22% being breast cancer patients with the majority of them being late stage presentations. So you can see the importance of Pinktober and Breast Cancer Awareness and pushing that message of Early Detection.”

“Pinktober is about communities taking ownership and leading the way to advocate for Breast Cancer. You might ask why it is important. Because the more we talk about Breast Cancer or Cancer in general, the more people will listen, the more people will be involved and pay attention and the more people will see it as a priority for early detection and being informed.”

“Pinktober is a personal campaign because it takes people who have experienced the battle with cancer to understand and relate to the realities of the disease.” 

“For people who are surviving cancer, they know and understand the impacts of cancer on their lives and their families. Pinktober is about allowing them to share that experience with us and to share the real impacts that are happening with people that have cancer.”

The fact is all of us are affected by cancer one way or another. There is not a single person in this country who is not connected or a relative of someone who has passed on or continuing to battle cancer.

Needless to say, one of the more visible faces of cancer in Samoa is Manamea Apelu-Schwalger. 

Over the past couple of years, we have been privileged to be able to journey with Manamea as she shares her story about her daily battle with breast cancer. If anything, her fighting spirit and determination to overcome tremendous odds is an inspiration. 

You see, amidst her struggles and the unimaginable pain she must be going through, Mana exhibits courage and faith in her God. They are traits to be admired and emulated, ones we should draw strength from.

In a piece she wrote for the Sunday Samoan titled “Painting Samoa pink for Pinktober” she revealed that the HER2+ breast cancer has found its way to her brain so that it is basically incurable and inoperable.

“I am told my faculties will go in due time as my brain cells succumb to the disease, but I have learned to calm myself in the face of such promises,” Manamea writes.

“At this exact time in 2014, I was getting ready to sit my USP exams, and armed with bandages from my first breast surgery, I gave my late mother her final wish, I graduated. Fast forward to last October, I was wheeled into our emergency unit up at Motootua with cancer-filled lungs. By November 2016, I was told to come home to farewell my loved ones.  One year later, I am still here. So if you wake up to a Pink Samoa, think beautiful thoughts.” 

“Think of all those less fortunate who cannot voice these thoughts, who fight cancer silently. Think of the policies that continue to change for the betterment of our societies as a result of public voices and opinions regarding anything, cancer for me.” 

“Think of how we can encourage people to understand the signs and symptoms of cancer. Think of how we all proactively can be a part of a Samoa that can come together, collectively, to perpetuate our purpose on this earth.” 

Manamea is not the only one. 

There are many Samoans living with similar stories to tell. They are mothers, sisters, aunties and more. They are an inspiration and a constant reminder to us all never to take a day for granted. Every day is a gift.

Think of them when you see the Pink Town Clock. And whisper a prayer for strength, courage and healing. 

Have a safe Thursday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 04 October 2017, 12:00AM

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