The small village church at Lakepa was packed with mourners spreading outside as the community all too soon attended the funeral of another woman who lost her life to cancer. Mrs Ataleo Tiakia was 56 years old, a mother of four, and wife of twenty-eight years to her beloved husband Trevor Tiakia.
In October 2021 she went to New Zealand for a second opinion after going in and out of the hospital. While in New Zealand, towards the end of 2021, she was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. In 2022 she started chemotherapy treatment, and the family hoped for some positive news but that was not the case.
In January 2023, the family was delivered the devastating news but Ata had already made up her mind that she wanted to return home to Niue. She arrived back in Niue on Tuesday last week and was welcomed by friends and family at the airport.
She spent her final days with her family and was visited by friends and extended family but sadly she passed away on Sunday afternoon, six days after returning home from New Zealand.
In delivering her eulogy, her son Hukuiaki said that on Friday she was cleaning the window frames at their family home but on Saturday she became weaker and deteriorated further on Sunday. To respect her final wishes the family made the difficult decision to lay her to rest on Monday, February 13th even though her youngest daughter, Alyiah is still in New Zealand at university.
Mrs Ataleo Tiakia was not just a victim of cancer. Ata was well-known in the community as a kind, soft-spoken, generous woman.
She was the first woman to be elected as the Chairperson of the Avatele Village Council serving from 2012 to 2018 when she and her family moved to their newly built home at Lakepa. Former MP for Avatele Hon. Billy Talagi paid tribute to a leader, a woman who led with kindness and humility. Ata was also one of the founding members of the national disability organisation, Niue Tolomaki Auloa Association.
A banker by profession, she worked in banking since the first commercial bank Westpac was established in Niue in the 80s’ and joined the team at the Bank of South Pacific (BSP) established in Niue in 2004, and again in 2013 worked for the Niue Commercial Enterprise which offers the services of Kiwibank in Niue.
The small banking community on the island paid tribute to their friend and colleague who will be sorely missed by people on the island, for her smiling face behind the counter having served the people of Niue for more than thirty years.
During the cancer awareness month of October last year, it was revealed that fifty-eight people who live in Niue, with a population of fewer than 1,800 were diagnosed with cancer of some form. The highest being breast cancer and cancer of the stomach.
In an interview with BCN News, Head of Public Health Grizelda Mokoia said that they are concerned at the alarming numbers “It is a concern for the department especially now as more younger people are affected”.
In attendance at Ata’s funeral were many of the families who lost a loved one to cancer or have a family member undergoing treatment or just returned from treatment in New Zealand.
For this small tight-knit community, the question remains ‘Why are we losing so many of our people to this disease and what is being done to find out, why?
The only people who can answer that question are the leaders of the country and the Health Department.