Paere was 48 at the time and had never had a mammogram – nor did she intend to.
“I told her I wasn’t interested in having a mammogram. I didn’t have smears either. I’m not religious at all but I just thought, if by any chance I have something, it’s God’s will. If it happens, it happens. Breast cancer wasn’t something in my family, so I wasn’t concerned.
“But June kept saying, ‘it’s only going to take 10 minutes of your time, just go and have a look’. I’ve seen the work she’s done and how many people she’s helped, so without even knowing her I had a little bit of respect for her. To get this woman off my back, I said, ‘OK then, I’ll do it’.”
June booked Paere’s mammogram appointment straight away, and a week later, on the Wednesday she underwent breast screening. The next day Paere received a call-back to repeat the procedure on the following Wednesday. While initially blasé about the process, she admitted the call-back made her nervous.
“It happened so quickly. I had to talk to the ‘tit doctor’ – that’s what I called him – and they performed another mammogram an ultrasound and a biopsy and said they’d be back in touch depending on the results. On the Friday following the mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, they rang and said I needed to go back to see the specialist.
“I realised it wasn’t good news, so I went home and thought about what I was going to do – if I was even going to do anything at all. I didn’t say anything to anyone other than I had an appointment with the doctor on Monday. And over the weekend I thought about it. I don’t think I cried but I was processing what I was going to do – or what I was going to allow them to do to me.”
By the time Paere’s appointment arrived on Monday, she’d already made up her mind to have a mastectomy if required and was open to radiation. However, she would not agree to chemotherapy.
“I thought, ‘this is my body and I’ll do what I’m comfortable with’. The doctor accepted this and told me what the mammogram had picked up. It was cancer. And because it was in a funny place, only the mammogram could’ve detected it. I have two whāngai boys, Casino and Areka, and they took it really hard. But I never thought about dying. I always knew whatever happened was God’s will.”
Paere had a partial mastectomy and had three lymph nodes removed. While undergoing radiation, she stayed at the Cancer Society’s Lions Lodge in Hamilton.
“At first I didn’t want to stay there – I wanted to be home. But it ended up being the best thing for me and I tell anybody who needs to do it, to stay at the lodge. It was fantastic – the family doesn’t have to worry about getting you to-and-from Hamilton. Financially there was no burden because the lodge is free, the meals were fantastic, and they got you to the hospital and back. It was all stress-free.”
Paere says she now encourages women to have their mammogram and regular cervical smears.
“I saw June one day and just stood in front of her. She didn’t know who I was because we’d only ever spoken on the phone. I said to her, ‘you don’t know me, but I’m possibly alive now because of you’. She said, ‘what do you mean?’. I said, ‘you rang me and hounded me until I agreed to go for a mammogram, and they found a cancerous tumor.’ She said, ‘gosh’, and I said, ‘yeah, thank you my guardian angel’.”