She has warmth oozing out of her, but make no mistake – Claudine Thompson calls a spade a spade.
The 71-year-old Ngāti Raukawa wāhine doesn’t have time – nor the inclination – to dwell on the what ifs or maybes.
With children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to care for, her plate is full. Sometimes it probably feels like it’s overflowing.
But as a survivor of three breast cancers, you could forgive her if she doesn’t have time to dish up meaningless platitudes.
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As she swirls her spoon through her latte on a dreary Ōtaki morning, Thompson lifts her cup to her mouth with her right eyebrow raised.
She then offered a simple explanation as to why women should have regular mammograms.
“Because if you don’t, you die. Simple. Because if you leave it too late, there’s no going back, is there?
“Once it takes hold, you’re a goner,” Thompson said.
After getting regular mammograms as soon as she was eligible, a “tiny, tiny lump was found” in Thompson’s right breast during her last free mammogram in 2018.
“But while [the specialist] was feeling around and checking, he said to me, ‘I want you to have a MRI. I think there’s something on [your left] side. I just need to check.’”
Sure enough, another lump was found.
Loathing the feeling of regaining consciousness after general anaesthetic, the netball fanatic chose to have her cancers removed using only local anaesthetic.
“It was alright. It was OK” she laughed.
“It wasn’t too bad. It was a better experience than going under. And because I’m overweight and I’m older, [general anaesthetic] scared the living daylights out of me,” Thompson said.
Because the lumps were caught early, Thompson was able to avoid chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
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When cancers are detected by mammogram, women have a 95 per cent chance of surviving breast cancer for at least five years.
Because the risk of breast cancer increases with age, Breast Cancer Foundation New Zealand recommends regular screening from age 40, despite mammograms only being free between age 45 to 69.
Worryingly, 30 per cent of those eligible for free mammograms are failing to take advantage of them.
Wāhine Māori are 35 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer and are 65 per cent more likely to die from it than non-Māori.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – acknowledging a disease which sees 3300 new diagnoses and kills more than 600 New Zealanders each year, making it the most prolific cancer in women.
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This week, Stuff’s print mastheads, including the Dominion Post and The Press have turned pink to raise awareness of the disease and to highlight the importance of screening.
Thompson is now a vocal mammogram supporter amongst her whanau and friends.
“When I turned 50, I was working with five other Māori women, one was my very good friend, “and I said to her, you’re 50 in a couple of months, you need to go and get your boobs done, get a mammogram.
“She said, ‘oh no, it’s so uncomfortable’. And I said, ‘it’s 10 minutes. Uncomfortable for 10 minutes and then you’re fine!’ So she has them now. Another couple of them wouldn’t go – I just keep going on and on at them. ‘Go and have a mammogram’.
“I have known a lot of people who have died of breast cancer. I had two sisters-in-law who died of breast cancer, so I try to urge my [daughters] to have theirs done,” Thompson said.
Despite admitting to “feeling a little sorry for herself at times”, Thompson believes her positive attitude has served her well in conquering the disease.
“I don’t have time to sit and write stuff down, and dwell on what I’ve been through.
“I just want to make sure I’m here for those great-grandchildren. That’s all,” Thompson said.