Meet The Founder Of Talk Peach, A Kiwi Charity Changing The Health Conversation
Dilmah and Viva join change-makers throughout New Zealand for a cup of tea and to discuss how they are creating positive change
Did you know having a smear test will only detect cervical cancer when, in fact there are four other types of gynaecological cancers? Scarily, this is true. When it comes to ovarian, uterine, vulval and vaginal cancers, there are currently no screening options available. Yet, in New Zealand alone, approximately 1000 Kiwi women are diagnosed with one of these five gynaecological cancers, and of this number 400 will die.
What can we do about it? Well we can start talking, says Tash Crosby, the founding force behind Talk Peach — a charity that focuses on gynaecological health.
Tash was diagnosed in 2016 with stage one ovarian cancer, which surprisingly was the best diagnosis she could have hoped for. “I was one of such a small percentage of people caught early; the chances of that happening are ridiculously slim. I still thank my lucky stars every day,” Tash says.
Of all ovarian cancer diagnoses, only 15 per cent are caught at stage one. Approximately 85 per cent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are caught in the later stages of the disease, where treatment options are limited and survival rates are extremely poor.
Following her own experience with ovarian cancer, Tash Crosby set out on a mission to educate women on the early and often subtle signs of gynaecological cancers and to empower people to advocate for their health.
She was motivated by her loneliness during her battle with the disease (and a touch of survivor’s guilt) Tash sought out to start talking about a formerly taboo subject.
“It’s not talked about. No one’s out there running for it or raising big money for it,” she says. “It was really hard finding someone to talk to about it and I felt really alone. I don’t want anyone else to feel the sense of isolation I felt when I was diagnosed.”
Breaking down the stigmas around gynaecological health isn’t a one-woman operation, Tash explains. “We must all work together to break down the mentality that gynaecological health is a taboo subject. By encouraging both women and men to talk about it, we can start to reduce the number of women who die from gynaecological cancer,”
“The most important reason we are talking is that early diagnosis is imperative to your survival. Gynaecological cancers are fast.”
Tash agrees that the discussion around breast cancer has motivated men and women everywhere to be more open when talking about breast health, and hopes the same will happen for vaginal health.
“You can walk anywhere these days and see pink ribbons and initiatives for breast cancer, but does anyone even know that 1 woman dies every 48 hours of ovarian cancer in this country? It's an age-old thing that we haven't talked about vulvas and vaginas openly and it's hurting our people.
“How wonderful the change that has been made by the Breast Cancer Foundation, but it's time that happened for gynaecological health also. It's just an added branch in taking care of our wahine’s wellbeing,” Tash says.
It’s a common misconception that gynaecological cancers are silent killers, Tash says, explaining there are signs and symptoms that women can and should look out for.
Each of the five gynaecological cancers has their own signs and symptoms, but the main things to note include:
- Persistent bloating
- Abnormal bleeding – bleeding between periods, after sex, and post menopause
- Changes in bowel habits – diarrhea or constipation
- Back pain
- Changes to the skin
- Pain during sex
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Changes to eating habits – feeling full quickly, loss of appetite
- A recurring or persistent itch on the vulva
- A growth or lump on the vulva
- Swelling, pain or tenderness in the vagina or on vulva
- Needing to urinate more frequently or urgently
- Burning pain when urinating
Treatment is specific to the type of cancer detected as well as how far it has spread (also known as the stage and the grade). The stage pertains to the size of the tumour and the extent to which the cancer has spread throughout the body, while the grade is about how the cancer cells look when examined under a microscope, which can predict how the cancer will behave, grow or spread.
“For most cancers, you would undergo surgery and chemotherapy, and/or radiation treatment,” says Tash.
When she’s not pouring herself into the charity, Tash works part-time as a learning and behaviour specialist with the Ministry of Education. Balancing the two has proven a bit of a juggling act, but she says the challenges have been worth it.
“It’s my lemonade from a pile of lemons. It's my way to give back. I can't hold all this knowledge and not have it go somewhere,” she says.
“This would be the thing I’m most proud of in my life. It's the proof that you can find the light in the darkest of places, but mainly it’s because it helps others and that's what's most important.”
As a registered charitable entity, Talk Peach doesn’t receive government funding, so relies on donations from the community. Fundraising kits are available on the Talk Peach website, and the team is open to hosting educational workshops in schools, clubs of businesses.
Tash invites men and women everywhere to be part of this much-need change in women’s health by visiting Talkpeach.org.nz, or following Talk Peach on Instagram at @talk_peach, or Facebook by searching Talk Peach Gynaecological Foundation.
“I don't want anyone to feel like no one gives a shit about their disease,” Tash says, “That they got the cancer no one really cares about because we can’t talk about a vulva. I mean let’s be honest it's an amazing body part!”
This is part of a special Viva and Dilmah editorial series. To see more, go to Viva.co.nz/Dilmah.