Filling a seven-month vacancy covering leave at Hauora Tairāwhiti's Kahikatea Medical Day Unit and Cancer Services, Ana Ratapu worked as clinical co-ordinator for people with breast cancer and melanoma. Ana would work with people through the exploration and diagnosis then, if the news was not great, co-ordinate their treatment plan.
“We would talk about what that plan might look like, I might go with them to appointments and, in consultation with surgeons and specialists based at Waikato, organise their treatment programme and go with them on that journey,” she says.
Despite the benefits to be gained from having a great team, however, Ana says people especially value having one dedicated person they can rely on. “People say how much they appreciate having a go-to person that removes any uncertainty and keeps them in the loop. It can be a difficult journey and they love having that person on their team.”
For Ana, 39, it's a journey she knows only too well as she's had her own battle with melanoma. Though born and raised in Gisborne she, her husband and their two children were living in Australia in May, 2020 when she got the news she had hoped would never come, after she noticed a dry patch on her arm and a small red lump on her neck.
“I knew I couldn't muck around as there is a really strong history of melanoma in my family. My grandmother had it, my dad twice, and both his brother and sister died from melanoma.”
Diagnosed with invasive melanoma on her neck, Ana underwent a process all too familiar to many of the people she cared for . . . surgery to remove the affected tissue and nearby lymph nodes, and the regular consultations with oncologists that continue to this day.
With dual registration as both nurse and midwife, Ana Ratapu had always wanted to work in health and in Australia worked across many disciplines, including a stint in an oncology ward.
“I really loved that experience and was able to revisit it in my time at Kahikatea, and work with others who shared the same passion,” she says.
“What we want is what they want . . . a positive outcome. You are a clinical professional but also a support system so in many ways you can lighten a patient's load as they go on what might be the biggest journey of their life.”