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Hope amidst despair

30 November 2020

Real men do cry and talk

Saturday 7 November 2020 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Weekend

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Real men do cry and talk
Following a serious health scare three years ago, Tama Tuavera has “taken his life back” and lost more than 20kgs. 20021830.

A serious health scare brought Ngatangiia MP Tamaiva Tuavera to his knees. Melina Etches sat down with Tuavera, who openly shared his story in the hope that other men will do the same especially during the month of November.

Three years ago, trying to pee, Tamaiva Tuavera felt excruciating pain.

In agony, the Member of Parliament for Ngatangiia gave in, knelt and cried.

Soon after, Tuavera, who is well-known as Captain Tama, drove himself to the hospital where a catheter was inserted.

The relief he felt was amazing and he couldn’t believe his urine filled several bags.

“It was such relief,” recalls Tuavera as he shares his prostate health scare experience to encourage more men to seek medical advice when daily bodily movements are not functioning in a normal manner.

The year was 2017, when he first experienced difficulties passing urine; at the time he was taking herbal pills for a blood condition.

Browsing online Tuavera came across herbal tablets that he ordered; the difficulty of passing urine eased.

However, after sometime the pills stopped working and taking double dosages did not ease the pain.

Tuavera realised something was seriously wrong when he felt a constant urge to urinate but nothing would happen.

“When the pain hit and I couldn’t go…”

Tuavera returned to the hospital the next day for a prostate check with an ultrasound machine.

He was told his prostate was “way too big”.

“What hit me straightaway was, ‘oh no, I’ve got prostate cancer’. So, I asked, do I have cancer?”

He was relieved to hear “no”.

“They explained to me what prostate was, how when it expands it means its not pushing the urine out.

“The only way to fix it was to have an operation, the catheter was just a temporary fix.”

As most men age, they develop prostate enlargement and can increasingly be plagued by a frequent need to urinate.

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located below the bladder

With advancing age, prostate cells thrive, a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which causes the gland to grow slowly and press on the bladder and part of the urethra.

The enlarged prostate can prevent the complete emptying of the bladder, so it fills more quickly, causing an urge to urinate but with great difficulty.

Tuavera, who has medical insurance, did not wait for a referral and made preparations contacting doctors in New Zealand for appointments.

In September 2017, he flew to New Zealand for his medical checks.

Tuavera is a former New Zealand Army firearms instructor. But the thought of going through a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanning machine, scared him.

“They kept saying to me, ‘it’s going to be all right’ … but I don’t know, I was scared. When I was in the armed forces, I never felt claustrophobic, but lately in life, some things are harder for me to take in, like sometimes being in a small plane…

“I told them I hate it being so enclosed in a small space, so they gave me headphones and played music I liked.”

He felt calmer with the sound of music lying in the MRI capsule like machine, “but when that machine started - takatakatakataka… that’s how loud it was, then the music stopped!”

Tuavera tried to call out to turn the music back on … he willed himself to regroup his thoughts, “I thought to myself, ‘no, no don’t yell out, don’t do that, you’ll just panic’. So, I thought of the beach in Muri, the sunny beach, thinking of all the good things back home… that, got me through.”

The doctor introduced him to a new procedure - Holmium laser enucleation of the prostate (HoLEP), a treatment for men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) “where you don’t have to be opened up, but the procedure is done through the rectum”.

As anyone would ask the innocent question, Tuavera asked, “does that hurt?”

“The doctor replied, you wouldn’t know you’ll be asleep,” says Tuavera with a laugh.

He returned home to Rarotonga to spend Christmas and New Year’s with his family.

In January, 2018 received news the procedure would be performed at the Mercy Hospital on January 24 - Tuavera flew to New Zealand with his wife Lynn.

The HoLEP procedure was explained, “I wasn’t scared, I’ve been through quite a few operations, here and while in the army.”

The procedure took 90 minutes.

He was warned not to be alarmed at the blood when he would pass urine.

Tuavera had the comfort of staying in a private hospital room, on arrival he glanced at his urine bag and all he saw was blood.

For any discomfort, he had a drip with a button to press for morphine to help relieve pain.

He never used the morphine.

“There was pain, but I could handle it and I’m always conscious of morphine.

“The male nurse who checked on me was surprised I never used the morphine. I told him no, ‘I’m Superman, I don’t need pain killer’.”

Tuavera was kept in for 24 hours, the next day his urine began to clear.

“I remember when I used to try and pee… now it was like someone turned a hose on me…”

The doctors spoke to him about diet, alcohol, red meat among other things.

“I ate fish and vegetables for three months,” he says.

After five days he returned home, during that period he was always conscious of being overweight.

“Everything was about getting on scale, see any doctor you hop on the scale, there’s always a scale.”

He was sitting on 136 to 139 kilos at the time.

“I tried all sorts of diets, I’d lose weight then put it back on; on and off, on and off…”

Now he weighs a good 120 kilos, which he credits to the Arbonne programme he started in July.

“I started it to try and get my life back,” Tuavera says.

“It has a protein drink which is plant based and the types of foods you can eat for 30 days followed by a two week break then another 30 days. “

He takes his Arbonne plan when he travels.

On a trip to the Pa Enua Tuavera faced a challenge, where delicious food was staring him in the face.

“I would sit at the table with all the food on, I was testing myself to see if I would eat this food, I just ate rukau, moina tai and fish, I managed to stick to my plan; so far I have lost 20 kilos,” he says.

“The crux too is exercise, I go to the gym every morning at 6am, I walk and cycle.”

Since then his prostate has been fine.

The month of November is widely known as “Movember” – the campaign to push men to be more aware of their health and simply get to a doctor for a check-up.

Tuavera says a lot of men are too akama (shy) to go to the doctor and get checked out.

“I encourage them to go and get checked, another symptom is the opposite that men can’t stop themselves from peeing too when you can’t control your urine, have no bladder control whether you are passing or trying,” he says.

“Make an appointment to visit Dr Fariu and call George George, the ambassador for the Movember health awareness campaign for men.”

Teams of men in workplaces around Rarotonga shaved their facial hair on the first weekend of November, then grow their beard to shave off at the end of the month.

The “Let’s Talk About” evening at the Golf Club next Tuesday at 6.30pm will have several men share their medical health experiences.

“We want the men to come along to listen and help out with the campaign where they can.”