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Cancer Survivor, great educator, God-fearing woman & loving mother passes away

unavaiola Va'atausili Tupuola Tanielu Utumapu

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Punavaiola Va'atausili Tupuola Tanielu Utumapu of Ofu and Olosega, Manu'atele accepted her first stipend of $750 from the American Samoa Community Cancer Coalition in December of 2021, prior to leaving for cancer treatment off island. She was diagnosed with Endometrial Adenocarcinoma in October 2021.

Recognized as a “survivor” by the local cancer community, Mrs. Tanielu Utumapu passed away on July 4, 2023 (American Samoa Time) in Apia, Samoa (on July 5 -Samoa Time) after her less than 2-year cancer battle that saw her seeking treatment in Alaska, Apia and New Zealand.

 She is remembered by her one and only daughter, Uni Daniels as a great educator, God-fearing woman and a loving mother.

Mrs. Tanielu Utumapu was born on April 13, 1957. Her parents are Tuiluaai Tupuola of Ofu and Va'atausili Mauai of Olosega. She married  Reupena Heeney Tanielu of Saipipi, Savaii in 1989.

She graduated from Samoana High School in 1975, and received her Associate in Science degree at the American Samoa Community College in 1976, and started her teaching career in 1977. In 1980 she received her Bachelors in Education at the University of Hawaii Manoa, and in 1982 she got her Masters of Education at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.

Her roles as an educator spans 42 years of service, and included being a teacher, counselor, a Vice-Principal, a Principal, a Division Leader and retired as the Assistant Director for the Department of Education in 2019,

In an interview with this reporter, her daughter, Uni said, “I salute my Mom, all her students are all successful in life, and I'm grateful for her passion in education, she was able to help out different generations while being a teacher.”

According to Uni, in 2021, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and was taken to Alaska in November for her chemotherapy. “She survived 18 weeks of Chemotherapy, and 5 weeks of Radiation,” she said.

She returned home in 2022, and lived a normal life. But in the month of December (2022), her cancer came back. "We were devastated and stressed out " says Uni.

Punavaiola decided that she wanted to move to Apia, Samoa with her husband and Uni. The doctor informed her family, that she wouldn't make it to the month of April, Uni told Samoa News.

However, they moved to Apia in February this year, went to New Zealand in March, and came back in April and Puna was doing just fine, Uni said.

“May, June, July …The Lord finally called upon her daughter to come home,” she explained. Her mother passed away on July 5, 2023 in Apia Samoa, which was the 4th of July in American Samoa. Uni says she will always be remembered on this special holiday.

“Ua sola le Teine Ole Tumua Le Fo’i.”

Samoa News extends their sincere condolences to Mrs. Punavaiola’s family during these trying times.