Our People: Mona Davis

By Jill Nicholas

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Mona Davies. Daily Post Photograph by Andrew Warner.
Mona Davies. Daily Post Photograph by Andrew Warner.

'Tis the season to be jolly, wish each other good health and make resolutions which makes it right up Mona Davis' alley.

One of two poster girls for this year's Rotorua Pink Ribbon Walk, Mona (to be entirely accurate her full name's Rangikaumoana) always knew when it came to breast cancer she was a "dead cert" for its invasive tentacles, it's rife within her whanau.

It killed her mother at 53, her sister had a partial mastectomy at 44, three "cuzzies", a niece and two aunts have confronted it.

Last year Mona had a routine mammogram, it was clear.

"In April I got this cold, cold feeling at the back of my right boob. I knew what it was, my mother had that feeling too."

On May 10 Mona had that breast lopped off to rid her of a 7cm growth "that looked like the frigging Milky Way". On June 10 she was back on the operating table. "The surgeon was very apologetic they didn't get it all."

Why are we telling you this woeful tale at this festive time of year? It's because Mona has a truckload of seasonal wishes and New Year resolutions for her sisterhood, Maori and Pacifica women in particular.

The first's "Get yourself a bloody mammogram, if it's a fizzer at least you've had the check, if you've got a lump face it, it's not going away".

Her second's coupled to the former. "Tell yourself you are valuable, awesome, unique, love yourself, love your breasts, you deserve that check."

Her own mantra's that hoary old chestnut "If it doesn't kill you it can only make you stronger."

This is no sombre philosopher talking, Mona's the type who bounces through life laughing all the way as she metaphorically 'flips the bird' at adversity; she's had her fair share of that.

She completed the 3.5km Pink Ribbon Walk in a wheelchair, not because of cancer's after-effects but the reason's the drugs she takes to keep it at bay haven't bonded with those prescribed for arthritis in a dodgy knee.

The birth of her identical twin sons 30 years ago was her introduction to health struggles.

Born at 25 weeks gestation one weighed in at 900 grams the other 1000 grams. Their untimely arrival made her a mother of four under 5. "At times I went right off my head."

They were a sickly pair who decided it was time to enter the world immediately after she'd waved their father off on a Ngongotaha Rugby Club tour to France.

Auckland hospitals were too chocker to take her. She went to Waikato. "The doc said for the boys to survive I had to keep them up there [her womb], you can't believe the struggle it was to keep my legs together."

The twins didn't want to stay. "That was a hell of a journey. The hospital took photographs in case they were dead by the time I came around. Because of the Rainbow Warrior [bombing] we couldn't reach my husband, I panicked that he'd come back and only see pictures of his sons."

The twins failed to thrive. "If one was sick the other one got the pain, I went through sh*t with those boys until they were 7. They were so alike the only way to tell them apart was looking up their nostrils, one's had been stretched by his ventilator."

Mona was in her 20s when the twins were born. Growing up in Tuakau, at 12 she was picking spuds and carrots at local market gardens, secondary schooling was juggled with cafe work.

"Every day I'd have the local bank manager's Neenah tart ready for him, he found out I was good at maths, asked if I'd like to work for him. I was the first Maori to work in a bank in Tuakau, got asked to go back to school to encourage Maori to achieve."

At 16 Mona and her mum rowed. "She said too many boys were hanging around, it wasn't my fault, I was bridesmaid at a wedding and they seemed to like me."

Telling her boss she wanted out of Tuakau he showed her a map of New Zealand, asking where she wanted to live.

"I closed my eyes and the place I put my finger on was Rotorua.

"Here I was flatting, having a hell of a good time, delivering booze on the side to the backblocks for sly gorgers, pashing guys, then I clapped eyes on this freckle-faced Maori mullah, he didn't stand a show.

"He had to come up home and ask my father for my hand the old fashioned way, when we got married we didn't sleep together for three nights because of all the parties."

Possum hunting honeymoon plans were canned by a relative's death. The couple settled in Kaingaroa.

When the twins turned 5 Mona returned to banking but quit some years on considering banks had lost their client focus.

She bought a takeaway, believing it would be more customer-friendly. "Then I discovered I couldn't stand the smell of fish - straight up."

She stuck it out four years before turning to fry bread to earn a crust at the then Edmund Road market.

In 2007 her marriage ended.

"I got this job installing sanitisers in urinals. I cleaned toilets, had pride in what I did and was friggin' good at it."

Three years ago she went into a business partnership, buying Copies Etc, she's company director.

Has cancer affected her work? Has it heck.

"The surgeon said `take 10 weeks off'. I managed three."

Since then a three-part bucket list's been ticked off "just in case it [cancer] returns".

There's been a trip to a Fijian spa, a cruise and seeing New Zealand by rail.

"That won hands down, our country's so beautiful."

With medicinal cannabis such a hot topic would Mona consider taking it if, perish the thought, her cancer returned and the diagnosis was terminal?

"There're no buts about it, it's better for you than morphine any day."

MONA (RANGIKAUMOANA) DAVIS
Born: Auckland, 1958
Education: Tauranga South Primary, Tauranga, Glen Innes Intermediates, Pukekohe High
Family: Two daughters, two sons, five mokopuna
Iwi affiliations: Tainui, Ngati Amaru
Interests: Whanau, crosswords, reading "stock romances". "I'm fanatical about league." "Really, I like everything."
On her cancer: "I like a good fight and it [cancer] has given me that."
Personal Philosophy: "Live, love, eat, drink, be merry, have good cheer."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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