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PMA Chief Executive’s courageous fight against breast cancer

Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) Chief Executive, Debbie Sorensen, wife to Peter Cann, a daughter, loving mother and grandmother, opens up about her personal breast cancer journey for the first time. With unwavering strength and resilience, Mrs Sorensen aims to raise awareness, in light of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, about the importance of early breast cancer screenings and to shed light on the significance of self-care for women in Pacific communities.

Mrs Sorensen provides invaluable insights, sharing her experiences to help other Pacific Island women understand that breast cancer is not a battle to be faced alone or with fear. She emphasises the importance of seeking treatment, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and dispels the myths and anxieties that may surround these treatments.

“I think it’s really important to show Pacific women that it’s not something to be frightened of, to actually come and get treatment, to have chemotherapy, because a lot of our women, first of all, are diagnosed quite late.

“But also when doctors say to them, well, you now need chemotherapy and radiotherapy, they’ve watched too many movies, too many sad movies with things that don’t end well, and it’s not always like that. So, part of the purpose is to show women that actually this is okay, that you can do it.”

Mrs Sorensen’s background as a nurse has equipped her with valuable knowledge about medical procedures and treatment options. She acknowledges that it can be overwhelming for those without a healthcare background and strives to provide support and guidance to those facing similar challenges.

“It’s good that I’m a nurse because I know what to do,” she explains.

“And it must be a little bit scary if you don’t have a health background, and all the medical procedures must be quite overwhelming. But there are services and supports readily available, people just need to reach out.”

She further touches on the common tendency of women, particularly in Pacific communities, to put the health and well-being of their families above their own.

“I think that as women, we prioritise our families and we prioritise our children’s health, our husbands, our parents, sisters, our aunties, everyone over us.”

“Often we are really busy with the multiple commitments that we have. So, it’s really important that we do put time aside, and things like cancer screening. It’s really important because if we find cancer early, then in most cases it can be treated, and we will be okay.”

Her daughter, Rose Ah Mau, shares her admiration and love for her mother.

“My mother is someone who is bulletproof. But I think what people don’t understand is they see her as this force within the medical field, but actually, at the end of the day, she’s somebody’s mother and she’s my mother, she’s my brother’s mother, and she’s my children’s grandmother. She’s more than just a health professional. She’s somebody’s person. She’s my dad’s wife.”

Mrs Sorensen shares her gratitude to her family and friends for their continuous support throughout her journey.

“I’m most grateful for my family and my friends. I have a work family who are as close to me as my family, and without the incredibly solid support, I would never have made this.

“It was my work friends that I could tell my deepest fears to, who understood what I was going through because they’re all health people. They walked alongside me on this journey. In particular, Dr Debbie Ryan, Dr Kiki Maoate, and Sir Collin Tukuitonga, were the people who have been most close to me.”

Mrs Sorensen’s journey with breast cancer is a testament to her strength and resilience. She refuses to let her diagnosis define her.

“I don’t see any other choice. I have too much life to live and too many things to do. Like a lot of things in your life, you get to choose how you deal with it.”

Watch Debbie’s story. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xapujAqnWQ&ab_channel=PasifikaMedicalAssociationGroup

Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2023: Debbie’s Journey


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