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Debbie Sorensen with her partner, children and grandchildren.

Debbie Sorensen with her partner, children and grandchildren.

Photo/Pasifika Medical Association


Pacific health professional fighting breast cancer wants to remove fear of this disease

Pasifika Medical Association Chief Executive Debbie Sorensen opens up about her cancer journey for the first time.

Vaimaila Leatinu'u
Aui'a Vaimaila Leatinu'u
02 November 2023, 1:05pm
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A veteran medical expert fighting breast cancer wants to help quell anxieties behind cancer treatment for Pacific women.

Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) Chief Executive Debbie Sorensen has worked in the health sector supporting Pacific health for over 30 years.

Diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer in April 2022, Sorensen wants to encourage others not to let fear stop them getting the help they need, especially as a Pacific woman.

"It's really important to show Pacific women that it's not something to be frightened of, to come and get treatment, to have chemotherapy," Sorensen says.

"A lot of our women, first of all, are diagnosed quite late," she says.

Sorensen says when doctors start bringing up chemotherapy and radiotherapy that that can exacerbate anxiety around cancer.

"They've watched too many movies, too many sad movies with things that don't end well and it's not always like that," she says.

"So, part of the purpose is to show women that this is okay, that you can do it."

Sorensen says her background in the medical field as a nurse has helped her deal with how overwhelming healthcare can be at times.

"It must be a little bit scary if you don't have a health background. But there are services and supports readily available, people just need to reach out," she says.

Sorensen says commonly women in Pacific communities place the health and well-being of their families above their own.

"Often we are really busy with the multiple commitments that we have.

"So, it's really important that we put time aside, and things like cancer screening. If we find cancer early, then in most cases it can be treated, and we will be okay."

Sorensen's daughter, Rose Ah Mau, says her mother's extensive work in the field and reputation of perseverance can sometimes have others forget she's a person like anyone else.

Rose Ah Mau (left) with her mother (right). Photo/Pasifika Medical Association

"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," Mau says.

"She's more than just a health professional. She's somebody's person. She's my dad's wife."

Sorensen expressed her gratitude to those who supported her through 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.”

PMA have released a short-documentary on Sorensen's journey below:

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