Christchurch woman's plea for awareness after being diagnosed with breast cancer

A Christchurch woman who was diagnosed with three types of breast cancer is urging others to 'know your normal'.   

Forty-year-old Tessa Leonard-Graham's plea comes on World Cancer Day. 

Each year, approximately 25,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in Aotearoa, the most commonly diagnosed being breast, lung, prostate and colorectal cancers.

The Cancer Control Agency says survival rates in Aotearoa have increased substantially over the past two decades, with more people beating the disease than ever before. 

However, our survival rates are not improving as quickly as those in other high-income countries.

For Leonard-Graham, she has chosen to remember her breasts in her own way - by making a plastered cast of them.

"They were a part of my life for 40 years and to see them gone is going to be a bit sad, so I decided to immortalise them, I guess," she told Newshub, just three days before undergoing a double mastectomy.  

"I'm nervous but I'm just wanting to get in and get it done."

This World Cancer Day, Leonard-Graham is urging others to have that same proactive attitude after she was diagnosed with three different cancers.  

"In one breast, two forms of cancer - and the other one, another cancer," she explained. 

One of the cancers was a rare inflammatory breast cancer. 

More than 3500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in New Zealand each year, making it the leading cause of cancer for women.  

"This World Cancer Day we really want people to remember that health message, 'know your normal'," Breast Cancer Foundation lead nurse Natalie James said.  

The Cancer Society says the burden of cancer on society is huge, and World Cancer Day is a time to reflect.  

"It's a day when we really need to reflect on what we need to change to reduce the burden of cancer on our communities here in New Zealand and internationally as well," Cancer Society medical director Dr Kate Gregory said.  

"The plea we would make to the new Government is we want our patients to have equal access to these new treatments," she explained. 

"Patients shouldn't be setting up Give A Little pages to fund drugs, they shouldn't be mortgaging their houses, or cashing in their KiwiSaver." 

Leonard-Graham stressed the importance of knowing your body from head to toe. 

"There's so many different types and so many different types of people," she said.  

Early detection can be one of the best defences.