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Hope amidst despair

30 November 2020

An amazing journey of recovery and hope

Saturday 31 October 2020 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Weekend

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An amazing journey  of recovery and hope
Mata Pera is a feisty warrior who has overcome breast cancer. 20103048.

Cool, calm and collected Mata Pera is a feisty warrior who has battled breast cancer.

One morning in 2018, Mata Pera felt a hard lump in her breast – a dreadful shape and form that women fear.

“I wasn’t expecting the worst, but I knew, I just knew I had something,” she says.

On July 19, 2018 specialists from Australia performed a biopsy - three weeks later in August her worst fear was confirmed, she had stage two breast cancer.

Pera didn’t react at all when the doctors verified the cancer.

“I just sat there numb, at that time I thought if I react in the worst possible way my high blood pressure would go through the roof. I kept saying to myself, keep calm, stay calm.”

A work colleague was waiting for her that day, Pera told her the results matter-of-factly and unmoved.

But the next day the reality of her situation began to sink in.

She felt scared, thinking about the treatment ahead and her anxiety of enclosed spaces.

“I thought ‘oh no, I’ll be put into an oven (Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner)’ …. that was my biggest fear.”

Pera began to prepare for her journey ahead.

That Friday she visited an aunt of hers in Avatiu who had been cancer free for 12 years.

“We spent a whole night together just talking about it, it was so awesome, she shared her experiences from the start,” Pera says.

“It was good talking to someone who had been through it all, she helped me so much and gave me more courage.”

Pera researched, spoke to women and researched some more until she was more confident about future choices she would have to make.

“I had prepared myself about what decisions I would make, I decided to go for it and do all three (treatments).”

On September 11,2018, Pera flew out to New Zealand to start treatment.

The doctors in Auckland advised her to think about her treatment options overnight.

“I didn’t need to think more about it, I had already done my research back home in Raro. I asked for mastectomy.”

In October, she underwent a mastectomy.

Pera was appreciative of the support network in New Zealand.

“It was so awesome, the nurses, the doctors and the other women going through the same journey; my sisters, my niece, my family who took me into their homes to live with them … just so awesome,” she says.

She rested in November and commenced chemotherapy in December 2018 that ran for four months.

“I remembered what my Aunt had told me, I kept thinking of her, thinking ‘oh yes, tano rae taau (that’s right), thank you for sharing with me’…”

She suffered side effects, loss of taste of food, fainting, extreme tiredness, but managed to mentally block them out.

“I never put those side effects in front of me, I put them behind me… I had to keep going for my family,” Pera says.

“For me it was more just a discomfort, I was lucky I just had a few bad days.

“And I prayed every day, I prayed for everyone, especially for our mamas here, because I know that some of us women are too shy to talk about it.

“Then my hair started falling out in patches, but I knew it would.”

Her niece drove her to the barber where she had her hair shaved.

When the barber asked why, Pera revealed she was going through chemotherapy.

“He then said an aunt of his had passed away from cancer and wouldn’t charge me for the shave,” she says.

The youngest of five older sisters, Pera says they all wanted to shave their hair off too.

“I said ‘no don’t be silly’; but our eldest sister Koa Tairi Tou insisted, so I cut her hair off myself and shaved it too, it was very emotional, but amazing,” Pera says.

“My sisters and my niece knew exactly what was going on, what I was going through, they drove me everywhere and they would cry for me, I would say, ‘please don’t cry for me’.”

On a treatment break she flew to Perth to be with her four sons and grandchildren; her boys had visited her in Auckland during her treatment.

She encourages people to listen to their doctors.

“Everything the doctors told me I took on board, and tried to remain positive about it,” Pera says.

“I stayed in New Zealand for the entire treatment, I learnt how to catch the bus, walked around, I would cook, walk to my sister’s home, keep active, keep moving, keep positive.”

Pera also credits her supportive partner, her employers and colleagues “who were awesome”.

On their personal trips to New Zealand, Airport Authority CEO Joe Ngamata, her boss Tang and manager Oscar took time to visit her in Auckland.

“They were wonderful,” she says.

In June 2019, Pera was cleared to return home and continued to fly to New Zealand for her checkups.

She urges women to visit the Family Welfare Association and learn to do breast self-examination.

“If you suspect anything go to the hospital, please don’t wait,” Pera says.

Forever optimistic, Pera says it has been an amazing journey battling breast cancer and surviving.

“I have told my five sisters I’m glad that it happened to me and not to them,” she says

“I have come through this; I am blessed and grateful to be here.”

Pera has a Facebook page Gone Pink, women are welcome to contact her if they need someone to talk to about breast cancer.