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Cancer run for 'dad'

Siteri Sauvakacolo
Sunday, August 13, 2017

AT a certain point in life, you probably may have gone through the worst having to fight a battle with one of your closest family members. It can either be your father, mother or your own siblings. This fight especially against sicknesses always ends up in death if not supported well or if they may have been detected at a later stage in life.

Such is the reality in many families nowadays. Family members, young and old, are dying without reason and some only to be told that they are at the end stage of their sicknesses.

Miriam Anna Rees is a true testimony to this as she lost a very precious person in her life, her father, to cancer some years back.

Despite her dad's passing, Miri never fails to participate in activities that promote cancer awareness as it was something she could do to contribute to the cause in memory of her father who she was very close to.

Miri is Welsh and has maternal links to Nasele, Waidina in Naitasiri. She was born and raised in Suva before moving to the United Kingdom when her father was sick.

"My father fell ill in 2012 to a mystery illness which after several scans doctors in Fiji discovered what they suspected to be either a tumour or an abscess growth on the right side of his brain," Miri shared.

"We were told that (at the time) there was no medical expertise specialising in this type of case in Fiji and from what they had seen in the scans, if my father had an option to go overseas he should take it.

"My father was originally from Wales so he requested that we go to the UK to seek medical advice there.

"At this point although he needed assistance to walk, he was still outspoken, strong willed and determined as ever to fight this illness to the end and the two of us embarked on the long journey back to his homeland."

It was quite a struggle but with perseverance they managed the long trip.

It was in Wales where her father was formally diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a rare and aggressive form of brain tumour of which the prognosis is quite poor.

"With this devastating news, my family and I helped my father to enjoy and make the most of the little time he had left with us," she said.

"I remained with him as his main carer until he sadly passed away in August 2012, six months after initially falling ill."

Five years after her dad's passing, Miri still ensures that she is one of those many people who are always out there to spread the word that it is always important to fight this deadly sickness together as a unit.

Last month, she took part in the 5k Race for Life event in Cardiff, Wales.

Race for Life is a series of fundraising events for women organised by the British Charity: Cancer Research UK.

These events include running, jogging or walking a range of activities including 5km or 10km courses, full and half marathons, muddy obstacle courses and hiking, all of which raise money through sponsorship, purchasing race kits and merchandise for race day, registration fees to enter the race and through personal contributions.

The money raised helps fund cancer research in all 200 types of cancer. It is a positive campaign and unites people who have been affected by cancer either directly or indirectly to come together to beat the disease.

"Many people are inspired to take part in Race for Life because they have read and can relate to real cancer experiences shared through initiatives of the campaign," Miri said.

"I am not a runner and only started preparing for this event a few weeks prior so it was also a good source of motivation to get active and fit in preparation for it.

"Although I had initially planned and trained to run the entire course, a knee injury prevented me from doing this and I opted to complete the race by doing a combination of both light running and walking.

"It is not a competitive event but instead provides a positive environment and campaign for all those who have been affected by cancer to come together as one to try and beat the disease together."

The experience of looking after her father, listening to doctors and learning more about the disease had a profound effect on Miri and how short life really is.

It was also quite an emotional experience to see how debilitating the disease was when she spent many days with her father at the specialised cancer hospital in Cardiff.

Her participation in such events was not just about running for fun, it was all about being united so we can beat cancer.

"United we can beat cancer. Just because you are not the person directly suffering from the disease doesn't mean you cannot do your part to offer support whether it be as a carer or by raising much-needed funds for cancer-related causes.

"I didn't have any type of sponsorship this year, but I plan to start earlier with my individual campaign next year and hope to raise a good amount to contribute to the cause.

"It is great that Fiji is now advocating and addressing cancer and has several awareness campaigns.

"However, I think they should raise awareness on all types of cancers across the board because at present there is a lot emphasis on specific cancers such as ovarian, breast, cervical, testicular and prostate and people need to be educated about many other cancers."

While there is a good amount of awareness out there in Fiji, Miri believes there is a severe lack of support networks available for cancer patients as well as for their families.

She said this was an extremely traumatic and stressful experience both physical and emotionally for everyone.

She also shared that when her father was sick, she was lucky to receive support from what is known as the MacMillan Support Centre, which is another UK-run organisation that provides all the information you need for both the patient diagnosed with cancer and their family.

It provides advice on all the different cancers and the changes that happen in the body, treatments available, choices and decisions that will need to be made, support for carers and even advice on preparing for the final days for those unfortunately diagnosed with terminal cancer.

"Even if you just needed someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on, they provided support for that too.

"I think that having something similar in Fiji would go a long way in helping people understand the disease and help them get through all the emotional, physical and spiritual effects that come with it."

Miri added there needed to be more support and funding directed to the Fiji Cancer Society as cancer was fast becoming a huge killer in Fiji and the wider Pacific.

She said more attention should be given on providing the best support to patients and by also making sure Fiji had access to the latest cancer treatments and specialised cancer care.

Miri works as a community support officer for the Cardiff City Council in Wales.

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