People | Survivor’s retreat on Beqa

Mereane Vavataga during the launch last month. Picture: JONA KONATACI

Mereane Vavataga created a safe space for cancer survivors to be the best version of themselves.

This safe space finally evolved into a non-government organisation on August 23 when President, Ratu Wiliame Katonivere, launched her logo – Self Care Retreat.

The journey that led to establishing her self-care retreat program began after one of her best friends got diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Denial and silence are the first two stages most people go through once they find out they have cancer,” she shared.

“That is what my girlfriend, Makelesi went through in 2021.”

Another friend, Vitinia, got involved in the journey and once Makelesi had the courage to get checked, all three friends went to the hospital.

Makelesi was a hardworking lady so as a form of therapy, Mereane suggested that the trio should go on a girls’ trip.

“My granddaughter told me that there was a homestay on Beqa, located right next to Beqa Lagoon, so Makelesi, Vitinia and I decided to go there.

“It was during the trip that I realised cancer was a very sensitive issue. You can’t just walk up to a cancer patient and say “oh so you’ve got cancer? Or what is it like to be a cancer patient? Because when that is done, those living with the disease tend to withdraw and that’s what I saw.”

She said the girls’ trip allowed them to take a breather and appreciate the simple things in life.

Fast forward to 2023, the Self Care Retreat has now gained the recognition it deserves.

And every year Mereane organises two trips for women living with cancer, one in March and the second one in September.

Mereane is fondly regarded as an aunty to all survivors.

The love and care she gives them provide healing and comfort.

With the second trip coming up this month, cancer survivors are all getting excited about the chance to be among other women with whom they can share stories with and find comfort in.

“Not being able to talk about uncomfortable issues has always been a challenge in the i Taukei culture.

“When I first met these ladies, they were quiet and often kept to themselves. They were always feeling down. One of the things you could tell was they had shame.

“I try to keep the group small to allow the ladies to open up with each other and share their challenges whether it be family and treatment problems, and find ways to overcome them.”

With daily Bible sessions Mereane has with the ladies, the group has bloomed into a close knitted family.

For Mereane, being surrounded by prayerful warriors and being a helping hand to her friends give her a feeling of satisfaction.

“During these retreats I make it known to them that just because they have cancer doesn’t mean that they have a death sentence. So the retreat allows them to get their mind off their sickness and just relax and form friendships.”

She said women and girls needed to watch out for each other.

“We never know what the other is going through because women are very good at camouflaging their feelings by putting on a happy face.”

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