Published on 12th December 2014
In Samoa, December follows Pinktober and Movember, a busy two months on the Samoa Cancer Society’s (SCS) calendar.
Volunteer Renae Carr is on a short-term assignment as a Database Adviser for the SCS, based in Apia, and says that though Pinktober (for breast cancer awareness) has run for a number of years, Movember (for prostate cancer awareness) was new in 2014.
The Sei Pua flower is worn to acknowledge and remember those who have had cancer. During Pinktober this year Sei Pua Day was held by the SCS on October 3, to focus on breast cancer awareness. A barbecue was held in central Apia to encourage the public to stop briefly, look at informational materials and talk with the SCS staff and nurses about breast cancer.
Pinktober culminated in the annual “Cancer Free Morning Tea” where cancer survivors are invited to gather, eat cupcakes, and share their stories and support each other. Renae says, “The star of the morning tea was our two-year-old cancer survivor Keleti Leuta of Vaovai, who has just restarted his immunisation programme following the successful completion of chemotherapy here in Samoa.”
Local businesses in Apia were extremely supportive, Renae says, with several thousand tala (one tala equals approximately 50 New Zealand cents) raised in just the first couple of weeks. Up to 80 guys had signed up to grow a moustache and be sponsored.
Farmer Joe, the major supermarket chain in Samoa, threw its support behind Movember. In addition to hosting a cancer society outreach event attended by more than 70 men at their Vaitele branch, Farmer Joe ran a Movember competition and held a prizegiving for the best moustaches in category, which had over 200 people in attendance.
Renae says, “The men at Farmer Joe’s engaged in a lively discussion about the symptoms of prostate cancer, which was chalked up as a success. The managers have told us with so many men on staff supporting it there has been ongoing conversation around the growing moustaches.”
Data accuracy around cancer in Samoa is poor, due to “limitations with diagnostic procedures, lack of access to medical facilities, low attendance rates, and limitations with reporting.” Gastro-intestinal cancers are currently the highest reported among Samoan men, with prostate cancer fourth, according to the World Health Organisation. “There is fear around cancer,” Renae says, “so the Cancer Society focuses on educating about the importance of early detection, and the signs and symptoms to watch out for.”
Renae says that the SCS “believes the cancer rates are under-reported, so in addition to the outreach education programme, we are trying to advocate for improved diagnostic facilities here in Samoa, and better data collection. Currently there is surgery available in Samoa for tumour removal; and for patients caught in the early stages, there is an overseas treatment option available. All locally available medications needed by cancer patients are free.”