Patient Stories – Vae
“Make the choice to get your screening and know that it will be all right. There is support, and many resources for help. So, forget about your ‘what if’s’. Your young ones depend on you. And if that hard ball hits you, just hit back!”
Vae Nofoa had a feeling in her right side that she hoped would go away, but she was busy caring for her four boys (ages 5 through 14) and working her job at a local non-profit. She knew she had a history of breast cancer in her family, and she has even had a few family members pass away because of breast cancer, but there was something that held her back.
“I was scared,” she explains, “and stubborn. Polynesian women are strong willed, we don’t like to listen when others try to tell us what to do. I knew I should probably go for a screening, but I’m in my early 40s, and I kept hoping the feeling would go away.”
One day her young nieces invited her to join them at church. It was “cultural week,” and they said many people would be there from her Samoan culture. This particular evening was ‘Gospel Night,’ but she still hesitated. Her nieces encouraged her. She finally agreed to go, even though the unfamiliar seemed to be holding her back.
When she got there, she met Queena and Jennifer from Carol Milgard Breast Center, who were there to remind everyone the importance of getting a mammogram, particularly if there was a history of breast cancer in their family. They offered a sign-up for free screenings, still she hesitated. Again, her nieces encouraged. They provided a flyer, so the following week she called and scheduled an appointment.
“Once I made the decision to go through with the appointment, I knew I would hear something I didn’t want to hear,” Vae said, “but I knew I had to go through with it regardless. It was a big step, but I’m glad I did it. I’m proud of myself for that, and I am very grateful to Queena and Jennifer for being there at the right time, with the right message I needed to hear.”
Vae’s mammogram came back showing a mass in both breasts, but after the biopsy she learned that she only had cancer in the right. A co-worker had gone through something similar and was very encouraging, recommending Carol Milgard Breast Center every step of the way.
She has now completed her mastectomy, choosing to remove both breasts, as well as reconstruction. The radiation just finished, and she will continue her chemo treatment through January. She is cancer free, and the healing process has begun.
Vae has a wonderful job that she loves. She’s part of the support crew at NW Furniture Bank in Tacoma, where she helps people everyday who are less fortunate. Three years ago, she and her boys found themselves in a similar situation when their apartment complex burned down. After that Vae became a true believer in being positive. She learned it’s OK to cry, to depend on someone else if you need to, and to be vulnerable. This positive attitude has served her well as she’s gone through her breast cancer journey.
Her boys and her family have been very supportive, always checking on her and helping in any way they can, and she has had incredible support from work. One of the board members from work helped her join a support group and bought her wig when she was going through chemo.
“I have had great support,” Vae beams, “everyone at work knows what I’ve gone through, and they know what I’m capable of. They call me ‘the hugger,’ because I have learned that you may think you have it bad, but someone always has it worse. Wake up, be grateful, and go about living your life.”
Vae was born in Samoa and moved to the United States with her family in 1989. She is very committed to her family and her culture, but she tells us that Polynesian women need encouragement. So, we asked her what message she’d like to send to her sisters. Here is was she said.
“We’re strong and we’re stubborn, but that shouldn’t hold you back. Make the choice to get your screening and know that it will be all right. There is support, and many resources for help. So, forget about your ‘what if’s’. Your young ones depend on you. And if that hard ball hits you, just hit back!”