For Dawn, finding out she had breast cancer left her shocked, terrified and sure she was going to die.

“It was devastating, because it was totally on the left. It’s not in my family, I’ve never smoked and maintained a healthy lifestyle with regular mammograms – just didn’t check all the boxes. I was in total shock.

“I found a lump under my arm and went to see my GP. Initially she thought it was a cyst but after an ultrasound we found out it was cancer and unfortunately it had penetrated in my lymph nodes.

“Right away I was referred to a surgeon, and he gave me a choice of surgery, then chemo and radiation, or chemo and radiation, then surgery, but I just I chose surgery because I just wanted it out of my body.”

It was her surgeon who reassured her. “I remember when I went to see my surgeon, I walked in there thinking I was going to die because most people with breast cancer I had heard of had not survived.

Fears

“It was in my head that I didn’t know how long I was going to live. During the appointment with my surgeon, he explained a lot more to us. He eased my fears and put me at ease. I left thinking I had a good chance of surviving this.

Ten days after her diagnosis, Dawn underwent surgery and, after her recovery, she started chemotherapy for six months, followed by 15 rounds of radiotherapy.

“It was all pretty intense. The first chemo regimen is really tough, the second is easier, and the radiation therapy is pretty much a breeze. But psychologically, it’s very taxing from the start, throughout and beyond.

A special woman

Four years later, Dawn is cancer free. She thanks her husband, her mother, her manager, her medical team and a special woman for supporting her throughout her journey.

This woman is Ngaire Laker-Metz, a support worker for the Tauranga Trust breast cancer support service.

“I found out about breast cancer support services through a referral from my GP. The first phone call I had with Ngaire, I really didn’t know what to expect. I wanted to keep my top secret diagnosis, so maybe I was a little on my guard,” Dawn explains.

“After talking to Ngaire and learning that she had done this trip herself, it was very heartwarming. I felt an instant connection.

“She became someone I really relied on because she had been there herself. I always looked forward to her weekly phone call. She was always there if I needed her – let it be just to ask him questions or to give me little advice.

“Each time I finished a conversation with Ngaire, I felt stronger and more positive. most of the time these things actually worked.

local charity

Breast Cancer Support Service Tauranga is a local charity that supports people with breast cancer with a range of services.

This includes one-on-one support provided by support workers and support companions, who are volunteers who have experienced breast cancer themselves. There are support and education groups, counseling, oncology massage, dinner delivery, a lending library, and more.

For support workers like Ngaire, understanding the fears and feelings that come with a breast cancer diagnosis allows them to provide a unique level of support.

They help clients successfully navigate their journey by offering practical and emotional support, hope, encouragement and information.

Ngaire says it is a privilege to support women going through a journey similar to hers.

“I still remember how shocked and scared I was when first diagnosed.

“It’s also a very private thing; people don’t always want to reveal everything and share everything with everyone. It’s a privilege to have someone allow you to walk alongside them for a while and keep some space for them when they need it.

Support

“We’re a safe space where people can tell you how they feel, cry a little or have one together, share their fears and worries. I think it’s important because the family is fantastic, but you can’t always tell them everything because you don’t want them to worry.

Ngaire notes that they don’t give medical advice, but they support people to help them get the information they need to make the decisions that are right for them.

Wanting to give back to the charity that gave her so much, Dawn now volunteers with the Tauranga Breast Cancer Support Service.

“Ngaire stayed in touch with me every week for a long time, then it became kind of a month, and even now we are still in touch from time to time. Because I had so much support from Breast Cancer Support and Ngaire in particular, I wanted to give something back,” says Dawn.

“I’ve made knitted door knockers, I’ve made baking, knitted beanies, cushions – I’m happy to support them in any way. They do such an amazing job and I don’t think enough people know that, so I really like to give back to help them survive.

Tauranga Breast Cancer Support Service Manager Helen Alice says the charity provides practical support at a time when energy and money are stretched.

“But the most important thing we hear over and over again is having someone check in with you regularly – customers feel cared for and heard.

Thirty years in WBOP

“We’re celebrating 30 years in the Western Bay of Plenty by providing support this year – that’s thousands of women’s lives impacted. We don’t know what this celebration will look like at the moment given Covid, but we’re sure to do something special to mark the occasion. “We also sell a 30th anniversary t-shirt, which can be purchased on our website.”

The Tauranga Breast Cancer Support Service has been supported by TECT funding of over $280,000 since 2004. More recently a grant of $35,000 was approved to cover operating costs.

Helen says support is critical. “Most of our expenses go directly to customers, salaries and building maintenance. We rely on grants like TECT for our existence and it is the support of this community that also allows us to exist, as we do not receive government or DHB funding.

Humiliated

“The last two years have been very difficult, so many fundraising activities have been cancelled. Without the TECT grant, which is one of the largest we receive, this would put us under enormous pressure.

“We are so touched that the work we do is valued, and we really appreciate having it recognized. Breast cancer is by far the largest in terms of prevalence of cancers in women by a country mile, so the recognition is so humbling.

To find out more about the Tauranga Breast Cancer Support Service, visit: https://www.breastcancerbop.org.nz/