For Dawn, finding out she had breast cancer left her feeling overwhelmed, terrified, and sure she was going to die.
“It was devastating, as it was totally left field. It’s not in my family, I’ve never been a smoker and maintained a healthy lifestyle with regular mammograms – I just didn’t tick all the boxes. I was in total shock.
“I found a lump under my arm and went to my GP. Initially, she thought it was a cyst but after an ultrasound, we found out it was cancer and unfortunately, it had gotten into my lymph nodes.
“Straight away, I was referred to a surgeon, and he gave me the option of either surgery and then chemo and radiation, or chemo and radiation then surgery, but I chose surgery straight away as I just wanted it out of my body.”
It was her surgeon who put her mind at ease. “I remember when I went to see my surgeon, I walked in there thinking I was going to die as most of the people that I’d heard about with breast cancer had not survived.
“It was in my head that I didn’t know how long I was going to live for. During the appointment with my surgeon, he explained a lot more to us. He allayed my fears and put me at ease. I left thinking that I had a good chance of surviving this.”
Ten days after her diagnosis, Dawn had surgery, and after recovery, she started chemotherapy for six months, followed by 15 rounds of radiation.
“It was all quite intense. The first regime of chemo is really hard, the second one is easier, and radiation is pretty much a breeze. But psychologically, it’s very taxing right from the start, all the way through and beyond.
One special woman
Four years later, Dawn no longer has cancer. She credits her husband, mother, manager, medical team and one special woman for keeping her going along her journey.
That woman is Ngaire Laker-Metz, a support worker for Breast Cancer Support Service Tauranga Trust.
“I found out about Breast Cancer Support Services through a referral from my GP. The first phone call I had with Ngaire I really didn’t know what to expect. I wanted to keep my diagnosis very quiet, so I may have been a bit guarded,” says Dawn.
“After talking to Ngaire and learning that she had been on this journey herself was very comforting. I felt an instant bond.
“She became someone that I really relied on as she had been there herself. I always looked forward to her weekly phone call. She was always there if I ever needed her – whether it was just to ask her questions or her giving me little tips.
“Every time I finished a conversation with Ngaire, I felt stronger and more positive. Often I would reflect on what was said, or I’d try something that she may have tried during her treatment and a lot of the time, these things actually worked.”
Breast Cancer Support Service Tauranga is a local charity supporting people diagnosed with breast cancer through a range of services.
These include one-on-one support provided by support workers and support buddies, who are volunteers who’ve been through breast cancer themselves. There are support and education groups, counselling, oncology massage, dinner delivery, a lending library, and more.
For support workers like Ngaire, understanding the fears and feelings that come with a breast cancer diagnosis allows them to provide a unique level of support.
They help clients successfully navigate the journey by offering practical and emotional support, hope, encouragement and information.
Ngaire says it is a privilege to support women going through a similar journey to her own.
“I still remember how shocked and frightened I was when first diagnosed.
“It’s a really private thing as well; people don’t always want to put it all out there and share everything with everybody. It’s a privilege that somebody lets you walk beside them for a while and hold some space for them when they need it.
“We are a safe space where people can tell you however they’re feeling, have a little cry or have one together, share their fears and their worries. I think that’s important because family are fantastic, but you can’t always tell them everything as you don’t want them to worry.”
Ngaire notes that they don’t give medical advice, but they support people to help them get the information they need to make the decisions that are right for them.
Wanting to give back to the charity that gave her so much, Dawn now volunteers for Breast Cancer Support Service Tauranga.
“Ngaire stayed in contact with me every week for a long time, and then it sort of went out to monthly, and even now, we still touch base from time to time. Because I had so much support from Breast Cancer Support and Ngaire in particular, I wanted to give something back,” says Dawn.
“I’ve made knitted knockers, I’ve done baking, knitted beanies, cushions – I am happy to support them in any way. They do such an amazing job and I don't think enough people know that, so I really enjoy giving back to help them survive.”
Breast Cancer Support Service Tauranga’s service manager Helen Alice says the charity provides practical support at a time when energy and money is challenged.
“But the most important thing we hear over and over again is having someone who regularly checks in with you – clients feel cared about and listened to.
Thirty years in WBOP
“We are celebrating 30 years in the Western Bay of Plenty providing support this year – that is thousands of women’s lives impacted. We’re not sure what that celebration will look like at the moment given Covid, but we are sure to do something special to mark the occasion. “We also have a 30th-anniversary t-shirt we are selling, which can be purchased on our website.”
Breast Cancer Support Service Tauranga has been supported by TECT funding of more than $280,000 since 2004. Most recently, a grant of $35,000 was approved to go towards operating costs.
Helen says that support is crucially important. “Most of our expenses go directly to clients, wages, and keeping the building going. We rely on grants like TECT for our existence and it’s the support of this community that also keeps us in existence, as we don’t get government or DHB funding.
“The last couple of years have been really tough, having so many fundraising activities cancelled. Without TECT’s grant, which is one of the largest we get, it would put us under huge pressure.
“We are so humbled by the fact that the work we do is valued, and we really appreciate the fact it is recognised. Breast cancer is by far the largest in terms of the prevalence of cancers in women by a country mile, so that recognition is just so humbling.”
To learn more about Breast Cancer Support Service Tauranga, visit: https://www.breastcancerbop.org.nz/