Ali's new normal - News & Updates • Breast Cancer Foundation NZ

Ali's new normal

For Ali Coomber, living well after breast cancer looks like reading lots of books, regular yoga, connecting with family, and coming to terms with thoughts of recurrence.

Ali was 60 when her breast cancer was picked up during her annual mammogram in 2021. After finishing active treatment, she would feel concerned any time she felt a cold coming on, questioning whether this meant her cancer had come back.

Now, Ali knows that trepidation will always be there and has spent the last three years learning to cope with that.

“Making the fear okay takes the sharp edge off it. You have to sit with it, acknowledge it and then let it go, you can’t suppress it.”

During her treatment, she was at the hospital regularly for appointments, but as soon as active treatment was over, those ended as well as the regular connection with her medical team.

“Going from lots of hospital appointments, to nothing, was strange,” says Ali.

“I felt out on a limb, I have great family and personal support, but everything else felt a bit flat. Having someone to talk to after it all is so important.”

She’s grateful for the “marvellous” support she received from an old colleague who had also been through breast cancer. Fiona came to appointments with her, acting as a second pair of ears and was a sounding board for any questions Ali had.

While Fiona’s experience had been different, her perspective was always helpful, says Ali, as was her compassion and empathy.

After her diagnosis, Ali quickly went back to work, but was hit by the realization of how stressful her job and routine actually were.

She took stock of her life, making the decision to transfer her job as a senior library assistant in Auckland up north to Warkworth.

It took awhile for Ali to settle down in her new home, but the move has made all the difference – her life is easier and less busy here, which gives her all the more time to focus on the aspects of life that bring her joy.

“I got back into yoga, I read a lot of books, I have my Buddhist community and meditation and I get involved where I can.”

Relationships have also become very important for Ali, who has spent a lot of time reconnecting with family and friends and making new friends too.

Ali is part Samoan and she feels strongly about making connections and getting involved with Pacific communities, especially when it comes to raising awareness for breast cancer: “anything I can do to help my Pacific women,” she says.

Last year, she shared her experiences with breast cancer on the panel of a Q+A session on breast cancer in Māori, Pasifika and Indigenous populations, run by Australian research organisation Breast Cancer Trials.

Attending and speaking at the event was a great opportunity to meet with other indigenous woman, to hear about the challenges and successes, listen to other participants such as researchers and clinicians, regarding their work and outreach, says Ali. It was a wonderful for medical personnel and the public to grow understanding around breast cancer and indigenous groups.