Checks are crucial

IT was in late September when a group of women from all walks of life gathered in Lautoka for the inaugural Picnic in the Park.

Ordinarily, this would be a time for the ladies to gather, have tea, exchange niceties before engaging in conversation centred on family and everyday life.

This time, the conversations were different. In fact, the women themselves were unique.

Fifty-five of the 65 people who gathered that day were cancer survivors and for the first time, they had banded to form a support group to allow them to share their experiences with others who had or were going through similar trials and tribulations.

Realising that cancer patients and survivors often had a difficult time coping with the severity of their conditions and the emotional duress placed on them, the idea of a support group for cancer patients and survivors was floated around by members of the Fiji Cancer Society Western Support Group for a number of years now.

Sadly, financial constraints and things like time and the unavailability of survivors or patients made it hard for the group to materialise.

The initiative finally bore fruit this year and throughout the duration of October, or Pinktober as it is commonly known, was deemed a success.

One of the key focuses of the support group is reaching out to women, particularly middle-aged, as many are still hesitant to get early checks.

Western Support Group events co-ordinator Milika Wata-Marshall said they were glad to get the support group up and running.

“We tried for many years but it always fell through,” she said.

“This year we decided it was now or ever. We decided to give this a go and we got 55 of them, who were survivors. It was a big number and I think when someone is diagnosed with cancer, they need all the support they can get.

“They will want to speak to people who have gone through similar experiences and with this support group will help with that.”

Focusing on the phrase “No one fights alone”, Ms Wata-Marshall said the next plan was to create pocket groups in Nadi and Lautoka.

“We hope to do meet every three months. Also, having cancer or being a survivor doesn’t mean you have to stay home. You can still enjoy life, still feel normal. No one fights alone.

“Something we have found is when women are diagnosed, we hide in our homes or just include immediate family.

“Talking with someone else helps lift the burden.”

Support for cancer awareness in the West has been amplified this year, says Ms Wata-Marshall, with new businesses lining up to host morning tea events.

“I think this year was really the culmination of preparation and we had new business houses coming together this year. It is good because this means we are being recognised and people are becoming more aware and the Ministry of Health is working harder.

“We always get support from our main people like Tanoa Hotels, Bank of South Pacific and they continue to grow.”

Despite all the advances made and the vigorous awareness campaigns by numerous entities during Pinktober, the message of early detection has yet to reach some women.

There is still a stigma associated with being diagnosed with cancer and many are still hesitant to take the first step and be checked.

However, Ms Wata-Marshall said it was good to note younger women coming forward to get checked.

“I think our young people are more aware but people are still hesitant. We are now trying to work with the Ministry of Women to reach out to more women’s groups.

“There are a number of women’s groups in the country and this is a great way to reach out to women. Perhaps we will have to work on changing our strategy and target that group.

“Throughout the month of October, we have had a lot of young people who called in and queried about how to get checked. We were getting people who were in their teens and in their 20s so it’s good to see that. We helped organise transfers to the hospital in order for them to get checked.

“We are glad that people are coming forward but it is still a challenge. We need to work on how to overcome this.”

Despite Pinktober coming to an end, November has brought on “Movember”, the month dedicated to men’s health issues primarily prostate cancer.

This means the battle against cancer is far from over.

Ms Wata-Marshall says they would begin cancer awareness during all months of the year.

“This isn’t a monthly event anymore. We plan to continue creating awareness during all months and reaching out to as many people as we can.”

The message to all members of the public remains the same. Get checked.

If you have even an inkling of suspicion that all may not be right with you, do go to the nearest health facility and get checked. And remember, you are not alone in your fight.

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