Living on Matakana Island in the Bay of Plenty means going for a mammogram “isn’t that easy to do”.
It’s an $80 barge to Ōmokoroa — which only runs at certain times of the day — and then a 30-minute drive to Tauranga.
“It’s a big dip out of your pocket, especially if you’re just making ends meet. And it’s a very long day,” Kirihi Murray says.
But the 64-year-old grandmother says a routine mammogram saved her life after she was diagnosed with breast cancerdespite having no symptoms.
The Matakana Island wāhine is now calling for Aotearoa’s breast screening service age bracket -— currently 45 to 69 — to be extended to 40 to 74.
“Early detection can save somebody’s life … Extend the age up for our kuia and lower it for our wāhine.”
Murray said she was “absolutely shocked” when she found out about her diagnosis on Christmas Eve 2020.
In retrospect, Murray said she felt “a bit of fatigue” but had no other symptoms.
As a mother of five and grandmother of 14, Murray had a kōrero with her whānau about her options.
“I could either have just the lump removed with a follow-up of radiation or chemo, or the whole breast taken off with no radiation and chemo.”
She decided to have a mastectomy and had a successful operation in February 2021 at Tauranga Hospital.
“My surgeon told me I was very lucky my cancer was picked up early and that was thanks to the mammogram — it saved my life.”
However, “the fight is still on” as she takes hormone medication and has regular check-ups.
Murray said accessing a mammogram while living on Matakana Island “isn’t that easy to do”.
“Despite the hassle of going, all of us on the island know how important it is to make the effort.”
Murray, who lives with her husband and father, urges other wāhine not to be hoha [annoyed, bothered] about having mammograms.
“Our Māori women and our Pasifika Island women — they’re a bit whakamā [ashamed, embarrassed] or they put it off. But no, get yourself checked. Early detection can save somebody’s life.”
She also supported the Breast Cancer Foundation’s call to do more for wāhine Māori affected by breast cancer because they were at higher risk of developing and dying from breast cancer.
Foundation chief executive Ah-Leen Rayner said it was “critically important” to do more for wāhine Māori because ethnicity played a role in breast cancer outcomes.
A “huge amount” of work had been done to increase survival rates for Māori in the past few decades “but Māori are still disproportionately affected”, she said.
Rayner said more than 3500 women were diagnosed with breast cancer every year.
Māori were 35 per cent more likely to be diagnosed and 33 per cent more likely to die than non-Māori.
Māori were also more likely to be diagnosed younger and have more aggressive and later-stage tumours than non-Māori, she said.
Rayner said Pasifika were also “higher risk” and were 52 per cent more likely to die from breast cancer.
She believed the screening age should be lowered to 40 for Māori and Pasifika.
Rayner said the foundation wanted a “fast-track system” for high-risk women with symptoms.
“We want their diagnosis pathway fast-tracked so they’re seen at a diagnostic centre within two weeks of presenting a symptom.”
The charity surveyed seven political parties — Labour, National, Act, Green, New Zealand First, The Opportunities Party (Top) and Te Pāti Māori (which the charity said did not respond) — about what they would do for breast cancer if elected.
The Green Party and Top supported establishing a fast-track referral system for high-risk women.
All parties backed free mammograms for women aged 70 to 74, with Green and New Zealand First offering free screening for all women aged 40 to 44 and Top offering this for “high-risk” women in that age group.
All parties would increase Pharmac’s budget, with NZ First indicating extra money for breast cancer drugs. That party, along with Top, would also reform the medicine purchasing agency, while Act would develop a medicines strategy first.
Rayner said it developed the “scorecard” because “we know what will make a difference to saving lives”.
“We want to work with the next government on evidence-based solutions that will make the biggest difference.”
Hot Pink Walk to raise funds for breast cancer services
About 3000 people are expected to participate in the Hot Pink Walk — a breast cancer charity event — in Tauranga on Wednesday evening.
A Breast Cancer Support Services Tauranga Trust media release said it is the event’s 20th anniversary and is about celebrating the lives of those affected by breast cancer.
Trust manager Helen Alice said it was a 5km walk through the Tauranga city centre where everyone wore pink.
“We love how much our community gets behind and really celebrates the hot pink walk every year … We have some passionate supporters who are regulars at this event, which is really special,” Alice said.
All funds raised go to the trust, where people who have had breast cancer offer practical and emotional support to those going through breast cancer in the Western Bay.
Tauranga City Council city developments and partnerships general manager Gareth Wallis said events such as the hot pink walk presented an opportunity to help reinvigorate the city centre by bringing people together and offering local businesses community support.
Megan Wilson is a health and general news reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has been a journalist since 2021.