This is the first out of three stories that has been published in the NZ Herald Canvas Magazine. Stay tuned for the other two, coming out in January.
The day 35-year-old Ainette Esati was told she had breast cancer was unimaginable. The shocking news of her initial diagnosis was made even worse by the knowledge that her cancer was incurable.
Ainette’s cancer was not picked up at the primary stage. Upon her diagnosis, it was secondary and had metastasised to her liver and lungs.
Looking back, Ainette realises she’d had symptoms for a while despite having discussed concerns with her doctor several times.
“I was feeling cold most of the time and my nipple was sore. I was given the explanation that it was because I was having babies. They didn’t think anything was wrong,” Ainette says.
“It was annoying, all of my energy was being taken up with the pain, it was like I was being poked with a blunt knife.”
Ainette was finally sent for a mammogram and biopsy in July 2017.
“I was gutted and angry when told the results after my symptoms had been fobbed off. I thought they should have known better.”
Ainette’s life has been turned upside down in the last 18 months. The mother of five has gone from working in a rewarding career and saving with her husband Tuilima for a house, to living day to day.
Ainette and Tuilima have five children, Peia (2), Epati (4), Elama (6), Seilah (7), and Kamasau (10).
It upsets her that her husband, despite working full time, has to now take on the household chores.
“It takes all my energy to get the kids ready for school and look after them when they come home,” Ainette says.
The family’s New Year’s resolution is for Ainette to simply “be around for the kids” and to make sure there is always something exciting to look forward to.
“My main goal now is to witness my kids graduate from high school, and to show them how much I love them as their mother, for as long as I can,” she says.
Ainette regularly attends Sweet Louise member meetings in West Auckland.
Anyone with a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer is eligible to become a “member” of Sweet Louise.
“I only miss the meetings if I am in hospital. It’s something to look forward to – I love meeting other ladies going through the same thing. It makes me feel like I am not the only one.”
Ainette also appreciates talking to members about their treatment and side effects such as weight gain.
She talks honestly about the cancer with her kids. “I have been trying my best to explain to them as much as I can, at their level. They know I have cancer and it is incurable.”
Currently, she is responding well to treatment with the tumours on her lungs and liver having shrunk. Very small tumours which were on her lymph nodes have also disappeared.
Ainette enjoys getting out when she can and seeing old friends. “They treat me normally. The best thing people can do is not treat me as unwell. People don’t say much, it is more to do with the looks on their faces – like they feel sorry for me.”
Each year Sweet Louise Support Coordinators provide 800 members nationwide, like Ainette, with face-to-face and telephone contact, regular member meetings and emotional support. Sweet Louise also provides vouchers tailored to members’ practical needs.
Sweet Louise receives no government funding and relies totally on the generosity of New Zealanders like you.