From hōhā to kaha
Hurihia tō aroaro ki te rā tukuna tō ātārangi kia taka ki muri ki a koe
Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you
“I’m learning gratitude; a gratefulness for life itself. That’s been a hard one for me.”
Hine Wikiriwhi is a 69-year-old, proud Māori wahine from Auckland, with myeloma. Her iwi is Tuhourangi on her father’s side, and Tainui on her mother’s.
She loves to sing, she is passionate about te ao Māori, and she adores her ‘fur babies’. Talking to her feels like having a kōrero with your kuia, your grandma.
But, while she is chatty, warm and friendly – vulnerability can be difficult for her.
“I have a Tainui cousin, Mere. One day, she looked at me and she said, ‘you’d be pretty good at hiding things’. I think I cover up a bit, that’s the trouble.”
Hine covers up so much, in fact, that she kept her myeloma diagnosis from her workplace and her family for over a year. “See, I learnt to put on a mask early in life. The outside looked OK, but the inside wasn’t good.”
Hine grew up with a dad who suffered from PTSD. He served in WWII as part of the 28th Māori Battalion. It was through her father that Hine learned, as a child, that you deal with hard stuff in life by ‘getting on with it’.
This is how she approached her blood cancer as an adult. “I had been leaving work early on Fridays because I needed to report to North Shore Hospital. But, I was hōhā; I was annoyed. I complained to my doctor; ‘I have to keep working to pay the bills.’”
While it was tough, there were parts of her journey that she appreciated. “I’m grateful for the public health system, so that I could have my stem cell transplant. It gave me at least five good years.”
She had help from her partner Kennedy, and she attended LBC support groups too. “We did a Christmas Zoom for patients recently. It was nice. I draw inspiration and courage from them – the older ladies there.”
Hine was also grateful for her doctor, who helped her stay level-headed, focussed and optimistic, even though she is hesitant to know too much about her blood cancer. “I just have to trust it. I don’t usually want to know about my lightchains, or how high-up they are.”
“But, I know I have this condition.” Hine says this with clarity.
“I knew that I’d have to go to hospital on the Friday before Christmas. And, I knew that it would make it difficult to eat food on Christmas Day, because I wouldn’t have my taste…and I don’t know how long the treatment is going for, exactly. But I think my blood test results are OK.”
Looking back, Hine knows that she could have approached her diagnosis differently. But she is happy with her life, and she is grateful for it. While her myeloma doesn’t define who she is, it has taught her a lot about resilience and kaha; strength.
“I read this quote once about how all organisms are made of four essential things – carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen. Dust to dust – you know, that’s what we’re made of and where we come from. For us Māori, that breath of life – it’s God-given.”
“For me, each breath is precious.”
Fast Facts: Myeloma
- Affects around 400 New Zealanders each year and is slightly more common in men
- Majority of people diagnosed are aged over 50 years, with around 2% under 40 years
- It is a cancer of the plasma cells.