Life and what matters most

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 06 February 2016, 12:00AM

Like most people yesterday, I was deeply touched by Manamea Apelu-Schwalger’s story about her battle with advanced breast cancer. 

If anything, her fighting spirit and determination to do what she can to promote healthy living among her people is what stands out for me. 

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. 

We’ve always known that cancer is a big problem. But in Samoa’s case, it’s a lot more serious. According to information revealed during the National Commemoration of Cancer Day on these shores, cancer is the number one killer in Samoa. That’s pretty scary when we stop and think about it. 

We say this because when we look at our health priorities, cancer is rarely mentioned. The focus is always on non-communicable diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and others, which is not wrong by the way. 

But perhaps with the knowledge we have now about cancer, we should be paying a lot more attention. The fact is, all of us are affected by it 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 struggling with cancer. 

In the words of many people who have suffered from it, cancer does not discriminate. And a classic example is Manamea. A beautiful and intelligent Samoan tama’ita’i who displays poise, dignity and class above all, who would’ve thought? 

Alas, she is not immune. No one is.

“Thirteen months ago, I came to the National Hospital after self examination on my left breast where I discovered a lump,” she recalled. “Unfortunately for me, after my surgery the lump was found to be malignant and so my journey started as a cancer patient.”

Just to illustrate the seriousness of cancer in Samoa, according to Manamea, at Acute Seven that day, of six patients, three suffered from cancer. 

Through the Samoa Medical Scheme, Manamea was able to travel to New Zealand to undergo surgery and six months of chemotherapy. It was a trip that brought relief – if only temporary.

“I came home elated. I thought I had beaten cancer,” she said. “In November, I underwent my third surgery because the lump had come back and cancer has come back aggressively.”

Today, Manamea is a woman on a mission.

“Cancer does not discriminate,” she said. “But don’t cry for me. I don’t want your pity, I don’t want your sorrow, I want your strength. Come closer to me, said the minister this morning, I want your love, because if I can, we can.”

Her ultimate goal is for Samoans to live healthier lifestyles.

 “I beg of you make healthier choices for yourself and for your children,” she said. “Choose healthier living. Cancer has no cure but it can be made to go into remission…”

As for now, Manamea knows every day is a gift. As such she is living life to the fullest with a very supportive husband, Alan, and her family. 

“My last reflection is, God has a master plan for us all and I’m going to be brave for whatever second, minute, day, year that He gives me,” she said. “I will live and breathe and hope that my story, my strength will challenge the next person to look at healthier living and choices.”

Well Manamea, your story has certainly challenged this column. And we are sure everyone who has read it would feel the same.

Let me tell you something though, Manamea is not the only one. There are many Samoans living with similar stories to tell. They are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and some of them are children. 

If they don’t inspire us, I don’t what will.

You see, life is tough. You and I know that. 

And we often complain about this and that – even some very insignificant things. But someone else will always have it tougher. If you thought your lot couldn’t get any worse, you don’t want to know what the next person is going through. Theirs is worse. And the cycle goes on. 

Which is why it pays to be nice to every one – even strangers - because you simply don’t know what they are going through. That smile you give the next person might be the best thing that has happened to them in a long time.

Today is a gift and tomorrow is the unknown. In this life, we’ve got choose our priorities right and sweat on the things that matter. Not every battle is for me and you.  Unless your last name is God, we’ve got to leave some battles for other people to fight. 

The point is that we’ve got to prioritise what matters. 

Earlier this week, thanks to Fauono Sina Mualia for constantly sharing the “Word for Today”, I will end this piece by sharing this with you. Titled “Dad, Show Your Children You Love Them,” it spoke volumes to me. I hope it does the same to you as you take time out to reenergise this weekend. Here it is:


“Canoeing specialist Bill Havens was almost guaranteed to win a gold medal in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. But a few months before the games he learned that his wife would likely give birth to their first child while he was away. 

She told him that she could make it on her own, but this was a milestone Bill didn’t want to miss. So he surprised everyone and stayed home. He greeted his infant son, Frank, into the world on 1 August 1924. Though he always wondered what might have been, he said he never regretted his decision. He poured his life into that little lad, and shared with him a love for the rapids. 

Twenty-four years passed, and the Olympic Games were held in Finland. 

This time his son Frank was chosen to compete in the canoeing event. The day after the competition, Bill received a telegram from Frank that read: ‘Dear Dad, thanks for waiting around for me to be born. I’m coming home with the gold medal that you should have won.’ It was signed ‘Your loving son, Frank.’ Bill Havens wanted his family to know they always came first, no matter what. 

And that made him a hero to a little boy named Frank. Bill understood that medals tarnish, records are broken, and achievements are soon forgotten. These things don’t satisfy. What does? The love you have for your children, and the love they have for you. Jesus pointed out that even when a child is wayward, a parent’s love can restore them. Are you neglecting your family today? If so, take action immediately!”

Make the most of that gift called today. 

And do enjoy some quality time with the people that matter the most, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 06 February 2016, 12:00AM

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