Reapi’s cancer battle

Cancer survivor Reapi Nayacakalou (centre) with West Support Group president Balavu Tora and Sugar Cane Growers Fund CEO Raj Sharma. Picture: FELIX CHAUDHARY

FOR Reapi Nayacakalou, the hardest part of being diagnosed with cancer was the moment she had to tell her twin eight-year-old boys that she had the dreaded disease.

“That was the only thing that was going through my mind, how do I tell my kids,” the 54-year-old shared while addressing staff of the Sugar Cane Growers Council and Sugar Cane Growers Fund in Lautoka on Tuesday at a morning tea to raise funds for the Fiji Cancer Society.

“When you’re a mother and you have young kids, how do you tell them that you are not well and may not make it.”

Ms Nayacakalou’s cancer journey began in January 2015 when the Nawaka resident began to experience heavy bleeding.

“At first I thought I was going through menopause and I got excited and happy because it meant no more monthly menstruation and buying pads.” However, when the bleeding increased and she began to pass big blood clots, Ms Nayacakalou sought medical advice and was referred to the Lautoka Hospital.

“There was a lot of testing and probing as they tried to determine what was wrong with me.

“The bleeding continued for six months and I used to go through six packs of maternity pads a day.

“I can remember my husband and sons having to mop up after I got up to use the washroom every time.”

As the bleeding continued, the onset of pain began and she described it as excruciating. “It was worse than the pain I went through at childbirth and it diminished my self-esteem.”

A gynaecologist at the hospital consulted with her and decided to perform a procedure on the walls of her vagina to extract cells for testing.

“It was a very invasive procedure because it involved me having my legs up in stirrups and a group of interns having a good look at how the procedure was done.

“I didn’t like it but I knew it had to be done and there’s no shame in having your private parts up for display even if the doctor is a male. “They have seen hundreds of women before you and will see even more after you, so what’s the big deal.”

A few weeks later, the doctor informed Ms Nayacakalou that she had endometrial cancer which had also affected her ovaries.

“I remember going blank while the doctor was speaking because I couldn’t fathom how it could have happened to me.”

She messaged her closest friends on Facebook and asked for their prayers and support and the overwhelming response, Ms Nayacakalou said, helped her through the most difficult moments.

“I had to be incredibly honest with my husband. I told him that the worst case scenario would be that I wouldn’t wake up after surgery.

“So I told him that if that happened, he was to marry one of my best friends, someone I knew who would take care of our kids. “I had already asked her and she had agreed after a lot of crying.

“And one thing I am very grateful for is the fact that my husband stood by me through it all because I know a lot of stories where men have left their wives during trying times like this.”

Ms Nayacakalou added that she was also grateful to the management at her workplace, Navutu Stars Resort, because of the support and understanding they showed.

“They paid for me to go to Suva Private Hospital and they paid for a nurse to look after me after surgery.

“It’s so important to have that kind of support from your employer and I am eternally grateful to them.” Ms Nayacakalou said the biggest lesson she learnt in her battle with cancer was the importance of early detection.

“If you are experiencing pain during sex, have unexplained bleeding or bruising, go to the hospital. There’s no need to be ashamed, you are putting the lives of your children and spouse at risk and inconvenience by not seeking medical advice and treatment.

“Don’t think of your shame and pain, think of the pain, think of the pain you will put your family and loved ones through by not taking that first step of getting checked.”


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