Hats off to the women of Manihiki

Saturday October 31, 2015 Written by Published in Health

 Cook Islands Breast Cancer Foundation president Jaewynn McKay looks at the excellent effort being made by Manihiki women to create awareness of breast cancer and the importance of healthy lifestyles.


Early in October I was approached as president of the Cook Islands Breast Cancer Foundation by Rangi Mitaera from Manihiki.

She asked if the Foundation would help her organise an event to raise breast cancer awareness and draw attention to the importance of having regular mammograms. The Foundation’s resources do not allow for us to travel to the Pa Enua, so being able to work with local “champions” is ideal.

Rangi’s mother was a victim of this disease and Rangi looked after her till she passed away. So getting her island moving on this issue was a personal mission combined with a bit of passion. Rangi wanted to make women aware and be prepared for and share the issues they face each day.

In preparing for the Pink Tea Party held last Wednesday Rangi consulted with nurse Elina Henry and Mayor Ngamata Napara. Both these women were quick to give support – both practical and financial.

Rangi researched global events that are held to mark breast cancer awareness and came up with the idea of a “Pink Tea Party” for all women in Manihiki.

She approached other key women in her community to help pull a few strings, but more importantly, just to come together as women to share information about breast cancer.

The spin-off from this event is that all the women are talking about and are encouraging each other to take better care of themselves. Rangi is organising some cooking classes so that more local ingredients are used and healthier options explored. Another young woman in Tauhunu is organising an “in the lagoon” exercise class for women. They’re considering calling it Merio (Mermaid) Mamas.

Here is Rangi’s account of the Pink Tea Party.

“Last Wednesday the women of Manihiki turned out in force I would like to extend my appreciation to Jaewynn and Dawn for helping me get all my bits and pieces together to make the event successful. Special thanks to Anita Boaza for coordinating with Dawn to ensure the gifts arrived safely and on time in Manihiki.”

“Our event scheduled for October 21 had to be postponed because of a bereavement on our island. Tohoa Toka was a very well-known and respected woman in our community so our little island was hit by her passing.”

But from this bereavement came the need to address certain health issues that have been conveniently put to the side. We dedicated our breast cancer gathering to her memory and to the many others who have lost their battle with cancer, diabetes and other illnesses, some of which are preventable.

At the time I decided to do this it wasn’t about me, it was about our isolation from the rest of the world and that we don’t have a doctor stationed here to address technical cases that our practitioners can’t handle.

It was also about our shyness, our lack of motivation to address our high NCD cases and the lack of awareness to address them.

I gathered three young women to help me pull this together and I am indebted to their support. They are Mehau Johnson, Winnie Williams and Angela Tobias. We gathered not only from our homes but from our pockets. Our mayor, Ngamata Napara, without hesitation agreed it was something that we must do and immediately donated $200.

“Manihiki Island Administration supported this initiative by providing a boat and fuel to bring our women from Tauhunu to Tukao for the day. With this kind of support, the rest was left to the women to attend. We had a great attendance, and a good mixture of age groups.

Miss Elina Henry from Health outlined how breast cancer starts, preventative measures, self-examination and other forms of medical assistance. Peter College spoke on behalf of his wife Metua from Public Health in Rarotonga, who due to the postponement was unable to attend the event. 

Anna Rauru spoke of her personal experiences caring for her own family members and friends affected by breast cancer. Anna is also diagnosed with cancer. And Teuru Passfield spoke about her research and personal journey into a healthy lifestyle, the stigmas attached and the challenges she has had to include in her life.

There was a good session where questions and personal experiences were shared followed by a quiz session to test if everyone had in fact learnt from the various speakers. 

Five little gift packs were organised which consisted of a pink towel, two handkerchiefs, candles, pink pen, pink lipstick, single pearl bracelet, a pair of keishi studs and some breast cancer handouts.

All participants received a pink ribbon with gold coin donations received totalling $150.

Invitations were hand delivered to every woman on Manihiki. Those in Tukao were also asked to contribute a plate for the occasion.

Donations received from our mayor assisted with catering. Radio announcements, emails and text messages were also widely used along with telephone calls.

The following recommendations were supported unanimously:

1. That out menfolk be invited and included in the next session.

2. That regular self-examination be adopted by each and every one of us.

3. To ask for assistance from our health practitioners if we need support and advice. To NOT ignore or put off seeking further advice.

4. To introduce changes into our diets, reduce sugar intake and other food items that continue to cause problems in health.

5. To start incorporating a simple exercise programme each day.

6. For the Manihiki Island Government to include the Breast Cancer Awareness Pink Tea Party into the annual calendar of events.

Thank you kindly for all your support - Te Atua te aroha. 

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