Loretta Talolo's Survivor Story

Cancer is often referred to as a ‘disease of old age’ because it primarily develops during the 40’s and 50’s and becomes symptomatic in the 60’s and 70’s.  However, cancer is also known as the ‘disease that does not discriminate’. It can develop at any age, despite race, ethnicity, social or economic status.

Loretta Talolo was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year at the age of 29. She approached the Cancer Coalition for assistance, and although stipend funds were unavailable, through the generosity of a community member and Hawaiian Airlines, she was able to fly to Hawai’i and then to her family in Hayward, California for additional diagnostic testing.

She has become open about her experience, which is ongoing, and shared some of it with the Coalition through an ‘email interview’ compiled here to hopefully inspire and empower all Samoan women to ‘listen to their bodies’, take advantage of the free cancer screening available through LBJ and the Breast & Cervical Cancer Program, and live a healthy lifestyle.  Here is Loretta’s story . . . 

interviewers: Ms. Luana Scanlan and Ms. Jennifer Tofaeono

interviewee:  Ms. Loretta Talolo

How old were you when diagnosed? 29

What was your knowledge about cancer before this happened? General knowledge: I thought it was ‘incurable’.

What type of screening did you do to find out that you had cancer?  

I had a mammogram, ultrasound and fine needle biopsy done at LBJ only to find out that the results indicated a ‘a high possibility’ of cancer, but it did not confirm or dismiss that it was cancer.

How did you find out that you had cancer?

I had a lumpectomy done and the pathology results were positive for breast cancer.

Did you discuss your diagnosis with your children, family, friends? 

Yes, I discussed my diagnosis with my family and friends.

What type of treatment did you receive? 

Surgery (twice) and I will receive radiation

How did you decide what the best treatment was for you?  

I prayed about it, took all of the doctor’s recommendations into consideration, and I did my own research. I also spoke with cancer survivors and followed my gut feeling.

Where did you find financial assistance or the means to pay for treatment? 

First, through an appointment with Planned Parenthood (PPH)in Hayward, California set-up by Jennifer Tofaeono from the LBJ Business Office.  PPH referred me to Highland Hospital in Oakland, California which helped me apply for MediCal (Medicaid) and soon I will have radiation treatments at Alta Bates in Berkeley, California. 

Can you provide some feedback on your cancer experience? 

It requires faith.  Family and friends (support group).  Patience - it can be a long tedious wait for appointments, etc...

Did you share your story openly with others after remission?  What kept you or motivated you to share your experience?  

I am open about my experience.  When the email came to me asking if I would be able to share my story I have to admit that it took me a while to decide on whether or not I would share my story.  I am grateful to be alive.  Without the help of my family, friends, the American Samoa Community Cancer Coalition, LBJ Staff, and Hawaiian Airlines, I wouldn’t have been able to make it to or through the medical care that I needed.  If my story can reach one person and motivate them to get checked out then it has value.

Sisters, learn about self-breast-examinations (SBE).  Spending a few minutes everyday, checking whether or not there is a lump in your breast or underarms can make a huge difference from finding it too late.  During my doctor visits and in personal research I learned that lumps are common for women during their menstrual period or among those who have born children and are breast feeding to discover lumps that go away.

What do you encourage young women to do if they find a lump, or find changes in their body? 

Go to the doctor as soon as possible.  The earlier it is tested and ruled out positive or negative for breast cancer, the better chance for treatments on the lump.  If it is cancer but you haven’t checked it out there is a greater chance of it spreading throughout your body.

What does being a cancer survivor mean to you? 

Being a cancer survivor has given me a greater appreciation of life.

What has this experience taught you?

I am not alone. God is a faithful God and this is a daily reminder for me.  When it seems like no one is there or understands me, not even family or friends, God is and does. I am grateful to be alive and know that there is a living God and he loves me unconditionally. I am blessed by our Father to have loving and supportive family and friends. 

From this experience, what have you learned that will make a difference as you move forward?

The thing I’ve learned the most from this experience is to live a healthier life style.  Before having a lump in my breast and finding out that it was breast cancer I use to smoke cigarettes and eat unhealthy.  I use to smoke 1-2 packs a week.

My diet was “see-food”: whatever I saw that I wanted to eat I ate.  Now I refuse to give the cancer any room to grow.  I quit smoking and I have a healthy eating style.  You can call it a better life style.   I’m not saying that smoking cigarettes and a poor diet causes breast cancer.  Over a decade ago I met a successful woman who retired from the Pentagon.  This woman didn’t smoke or drink. She ate a healthy diet. Yet one day she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She is a cancer survivor and so am I.

What message do you send to American Samoans about cancer?

Cancer knows no age limit or gender.  Being diagnosed with breast cancer as a female at the age of 29 was a complete shocker to me.  After doing my own research on breast cancer I learned that even females in their teens (age 15) through later years (60’s-older) can get breast cancer.  If the testing is available please take the opportunity and get tested.

June is Cancer Survivorship Awareness month.  The Cancer Coalition and Network of Partners encourage you to become involved with the cancer issues that may very well affect you one day - as a personal diagnosis or that of a loved one.  Cancer is the second leading cause of death in American Samoa.  Don’t become another statistic.  Eat healthy, be active, fight the urge to smoke and take advantage of the cancer screening available right here on our island.