For kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine, the show – and life – must go on. In the span of a year, she experienced the deaths of her husband and father, in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Then, in late March, the day before her father’s ho‘olewa, or wake, she was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. “It’s been kind of a challenge with all this going on,” she said.
After discussing it with her doctor at Pali Momi Medical Center, Takamine decided on a double mastectomy. Surgery was scheduled in early April, and it was deemed a success with no chemotherapy or radiation needed. “Six weeks later I was emceeing my MAMo Wearable Arts Show,” Takamine said.
The first two to four weeks after surgery were the hardest and required 24-7 care, she said, but family and friends provided help and support. Simple tasks like washing her face, brushing her hair and getting dressed were impossible because her arm movement was severely limited from shoulder to elbow. In those fi rst few weeks, her arms functioned only from her elbows to her hands.
“Mom, come help give me a shower,” was among the requests she made to her mother, herself a breast cancer survivor of 15 years. Breast cancer runs in her family. Her mom’s mother succumbed to it around her 40s.
Takamine said she had detected the lump and it was confi rmed through a mammogram, which she gets annually. “We caught it at Stage 0,” she said. “They also took out a couple lymph nodes to see if it spread, and it hadn’t. I was fortunate it hadn’t.”
“Go get your mammograms,” says Takamine, honorary chair for the 2017 Komen Hawaii Race for the Cure (see box for info).
A National Institutes of Health report on breast cancer in women of color shows that, unlike Takamine, many Native Hawaiian breast cancer patients delay seeking treatment, minimizing the importance of the illness in favor of maintaining familial harmony. As a result, they enter treatment at late stages of the disease, when self-care and traditional treatments no longer provide enough relief. Support from ‘ohana and friendship networks encourage women to get screened earlier, the study suggests.
Amanda Stevens, executive director of Susan G. Komen Hawaii, said new cases of breast cancer for Pacific Islander women are very close to the national average, however, the death rates are slightly higher than the national average. Susan G. Komen Hawaii “has provided more than $4 million in community grants for hospitals and agencies that provide vital breast health programs, with a strong focus on underserved communities, and more than $1 million towards research,” Stevens said.
Takamine, kumu hula for Pua Ali‘i ‘Ilima and executive director of PA‘I Foundation, its nonprofit arm, is used to a busy schedule of public performances, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she made her health the priority. She told her staff: “I am not going to see you for the next several weeks. You folks know what to do. … Don’t call me. Don’t bother me because I need to take care of this.”
“You have to advocate for your own healthcare,”she explains. “When it comes to your health, that has to be your priority because if you’re not healthy you can’t help your family, you can’t help the lāhui.”
As for breast reconstructive surgery, Takamine says she’s looking to schedule it in November. “I’ll spend Thanksgiving recovering,” she said. “I want to be back for the Christmas holidays, to spend that time with my family.”