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Huia's story: "Early detection protects whakapapa."

Huia had only recently recovered from a stroke when she found the lumps in her breast.

It was 2022 and New Zealand was in the middle of a Covid lockdown. Getting herself checked wasn’t easy and it took months of waiting before she was finally booked in for a biopsy.

During the pre-examination, she was told it was extremely likely she had cancer.

“When the nurse and doctor left the room, I just lost it. I cried and I could not stop. I was alone in that ugly, cold room and it was horrible.”

Three weeks later, Huia was told she had grade three breast cancer. For this busy wife, mum and kuia, the thought of weeks of radiation, chemotherapy and hormone therapy didn’t seem possible. And as the appointments piled up, Huia’s husband Joseph admitted he couldn’t do it.

“My family were busy and Joseph couldn’t take any more time off work. So I contacted the Cancer Society about rides to treatment and they were so good.

“There is this one particular driver I’ll never forget. I wouldn’t be able to talk after chemo because I’d be so exhausted. So he’d put his hand on my shoulder and say ‘you’ll be alright girl, you’ve just done another session and you’re one step closer.’ It helped reframe it and then each time I’d think ‘I am one step closer. 11 more to go, 10 more, 9 …’”

But Huia’s journey opened doors she didn’t expect. Her diagnosis spurred a passion for improving the health outcomes of her iwi, Ngāti Haua, and she has since been on a mission to get 100% of her people screened.

“After I’d gone through all my treatment, I thought I don’t want this to happen to any of my loved ones. Early detection is key and in 2023 alone, three wāhine in my family passed from cancer. I’m doing everything in my power now to raise awareness and get wāhine to have their screening – early detection protects whakapapa!”

Thanks to Huia, 24 wāhine from her marae have been screened with no call backs, and an additional 20 are set to be screened shortly.

Huia, who is now in survivorship, says she is thankful for the support she received on her journey.

“I am grateful beyond words to the people who support the Cancer Society and all of its services. Because they were there for me. Now I’m trying to give back as well. If you’re going through cancer, tap into the services. They have the tools to help patients and their whānau. Just ask the questions don’t be shy.”