A mother’s love and battle with cancer!
David Harawira is battling cancer. Sitting in the Mana Office with his mum Stephanie, you can immediately sense the warm whanau vibe humming throughout the underground complex in Henderson, west Auckland. Accompanying Stephanie and David is Jen, who I assumed was waiting to Hui with Stephanie but I’ll later learn is there for moral support. In the room next door is Stephanie’s tamariki and husband Tai – brother of Mana Party Leader Hone Harawira. David’s battle is still very raw for Stephanie - as if her little boy was diagnosed just yesterday. Tears rolling down her face, you can sense a very real feeling of pouri… fear… but also a mother’s love for her boy. Stephanie and David talk to Kelly Pohatu about their journey.
Stephanie Harawira and her son David embrace and celebrate each day as if it’s his last.
David (13) was in his second year at Liston Boys’ College, west Auckland, when his routine changed dramatically.
That’s was in October, 2013 when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL).
It’s been 10 months since David complained of a swollen neck and Stephanie took him to the doctor. David was sent home with antibiotics, for what appeared to be the flu.
But when his condition worsened, Stephanie took him back to the GP and they carried out a full range of blood tests. With no explanation, they were sent to Auckland Children’s Hospital Starship for even more tests.
“We were frustrated and I was infuriated because no one could tell us what was wrong with my boy. We were left in limbo for about a month,” Stephanie said.
When the news finally came, it was not good. David was diagnosed with an acute form of leukaemia (cancer of white blood cells), caused by an overproduction of cancerous immature white blood cells known as lymphoblasts.
David admits he was scared when told he had cancer.
“I didn’t know what it was and had never heard about it before. But I knew it was serious,” said David, who has an 80% chance of beating the cancer.
For Stephanie, its that high percentage of survival that keeps her going.
“We’re taking 80% and running with it," Stephanie said. “People have lived to tell the tale of their battle with cancer, so we remain positive.”
Stephanie’s passion has always been her whanau and community. A mum of five, Stephanie’s work has been recognised with a Local Hero award and she was also a New Zealander of the Year finalist. She is a Justice of the Peace and a marriage celebrant, and an executive member of Ezekiel 33 Trust and Ngapuhi ki Waitemata Takiwa. She’s an administrator of the New Zealand Maori Council and a member of Hau Wairua. She also happens to be the Secretary of the Waipareira Trust Board.
David’s challenge has meant a change of lifestyle for Stephanie as well. From being an active mum in the community, most of her time and energy is now focussed on David’s care and wellbeing.
“David can have a seizure at anytime, so he needs around-the-clock supervision,” Stephanie said.
“He’s also at risk of getting quite ill if he caught a cough, so we remain quite isolated from the world, to protect him.
“No more hui for me!” she laughs. “Well, not as often I used to attend our community Hui anyhow.”
David receives chemotherapy, so he and his mum make regular trips to Starship.
“It can be painful sometimes and I will always get tired after going through chemo,” David said.
Stephanie admitted she and her whanau initially struggled with chemo, because they felt powerless.
“We didn’t have any other treatment options for my boy and so that was a real challenge for us as a whanau,” Stephanie said.
“By law, he was to receive chemotherapy treatment. And this made me angry!”
David is taking a break from school while he undergoes treatment, but plans to return next year.
“I want to be an architect one day because that’s my passion,” David explains.
David has one more cycle to complete the 12 months of intense chemotherapy. He will then have three years of maintenance, which involves monitoring and smaller doses of chemotherapy.
“I miss being a normal kid, going to school and playing sport,” David said.
“But most of all I miss my friends. “
Stephanie and her whanau went through stages of emotional grief while coming to terms with David’s illness.
She said families are offered support services including counselling.
“We’ve been angry, sad, fearful but most importantly we’ve been joyful,” Stephanie said.
“We’ve come to terms with David’s cancer and it’s shown us a whole new level of love.”
She says it has made them truly grateful in life.
“It has given a whole new meaning, a different perspective in our lives!”
“We are thankful for each day so we have fun! We take him out for lunch almost every day. We go to the movies a lot, my husband tells me don’t you deny him anything,” she laughs.
“We’re grateful the chemotherapy treatment is working and we’ll continue to be there for him and each other; and of course we’ll continue to spoil him,” she laughs. “But most of all we’ll continue to love him and we’ll celebrate each and every day with him.”
“Ma te atua hei manaaki.”
Whanau Waipareira offers support to whanau who have been diagnosed with cancer, supporting them with GP and specialist visits.