Wednesday, December 6, 2023

‘Beautiful Flower’ begins breast cancer awareness journey

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New campervan ready to take life-saving breast awareness to remotest parts of the country.
Breast Cancer Foundation nurses Jo Norcott, Natalie James and Sue Bull get ready for Putiputi Ātaahua’s inaugural tour. Photos: Chris Chase Photography
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A state-of-the-art bright pink campervan is set to take life-saving breast health education to all regions of New Zealand. 

The Breast Cancer Foundation New Zealand’s (BCFNZ) pink campervan inaugural tour will kick off in the Tasman region of the South Island on October 15, the middle of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

Putiputi Ātaahua, the name gifted to the campervan by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei – it means “Beautiful Flower” –  will have on board two breast health nurses. It will visit small towns around the South Island throughout October, November and December to educate women about breast health. 

The aim is to take breast cancer awareness to hard-to-reach communities that don’t have access to specialist health services.

BCFNZ chief executive Ah-Leen Rayner said she is excited by what the charity will be able to achieve with the new campervan. 

“Early detection of breast cancer is the key to survival,” she said. 

“One of the best ways we can save lives from breast cancer is to spread knowledge about the importance of going for mammograms and being breast aware.

“With this new vehicle, our friendly specialist nurses will be able to reach more New Zealanders with these life-saving messages, visiting remote or isolated communities we’ve never been able to get to before.” 

The interior of Putiputi Ātaahua, a name that means ‘Beautiful Flower’ in te reo Māori.

BCFNZ fundraised for the new vehicle last year, after realising its iconic retro caravan was no longer fit for purpose. 

The charity’s old pink caravan, affectionately known as Pinkie, had travelled around the country since 2014 with breast nurses on board, educating women about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, family risk, and the importance of mammograms and self-checking. 

Pinkie relied on volunteers to tow it around, which meant it was unable to travel to all corners of the country. 

The new vehicle can be driven by the charity’s nurses.

Pinkie has now been retired from travel. 

The bright pink floral exterior of Putiputi Ātaahua is eye-catching and boasts a welcoming outdoor community engagement area, including a kids’ corner. 

The interior is spacious, has enhanced technology capability and contains two seating areas for private consultations and the ability to make a comforting cup of tea when needed. 

“We’re excited to be kicking off the campervan’s tour in Nelson-Tasman and then head down the West Coast, two regions we’ve not been able to visit for a long time,” Rayner said. 

“We want Putiputi Ātaahua to be a place where all women feel welcome to connect with our nurses and walk away feeling empowered to take charge of their breast health.”

“Putiputi Ātaahua” holds multiple meanings for the vehicle and its purpose. The name refers to the flowers wrapped around the campervan’s exterior, as well as the wraparound support Breast Cancer Foundation’s nurses will offer women and their families. It’s also an endearing term referencing wāhine Māori.

The campervan’s inaugural tour will begin in Tapawera and it will spend three weeks in the Nelson-Tasman region before heading to Buller and travel down the West Coast until Christmas. 

With one-third of breast cancers diagnosed outside of NZ’s main centres, BCFNZ is endeavouring to reach further in these regions with its education programme to encourage more women to attend regular breast screening.  

Covid lockdowns created a screening backlog of 50,000 overdue mammograms and while BreastScreen Aotearoa, the government organisation that provides screening mammograms, has been making progress in clearing the backlog, several regions are still lagging behind in breast-screening participation. 

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