That’s why Jaewynn McKay, former president of the Breast Cancer Foundation, yesterday took action to force people to think about the issue.
To help raise awareness of a free breast screening programme that started yesterday, McKay invited Cook Islands News to join her at Rarotonga Hospital to photograph her getting a mammogram.
“I’m picking we’ve all lost someone dear to us to breast cancer. I know I have,” she said. “Cancer is an insidious disease that strikes too many of our women folk, who are often too shy or live somewhere too remote, to seek early help.
“For many of our Cook Islands women that six letter word still carries a huge emotional load and this alone is enough to prevent them seeking early medical advice for symptoms.”
McKay said she hoped to encourage women to seek medical advice and take advantage of the opportunity to meet a specialist team that visits the country once a year, offering Cook Islands women an opportunity they’d normally have to travel overseas for.
Early detection and treatment greatly increase the chance of affected women living much longer to enjoy and be enjoyed by their families. “The more we can do to persuade women to go and have their breasts screened and therefore get early intervention if needed, the better,” she said.
“The peace of mind gained from 10 minutes in the x-ray room and one minute of marginal discomfort while four photos are taken to me is time well spent.”
A team of medical professionals from Australia is at the Rarotonga Hospital providing mammography screening and examination.
McKay said the Foundation had been working with the Health Ministry to bring medical experts to conduct the annual programme. In this, the 12th year, it had been extended to three weeks.
“We are encouraging all women over 40 to have regular mammograms,” she said.
The team is led by breast physician Dr Fran Jones; each year her team of Aussies take annual leave from their full-time jobs to come to Rarotonga to hold the screenings.
Last year they did over 400 mammograms, a record for Rarotonga and screened 429 women, many who were first-timers.