A holistic approach to supporting Māori with cancer

By Tema Hemi

When Rangi Mahuika was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago she felt alone and that support for her through her time of need wasn't forthcoming. A friend suggested the Te Mauri cancer support group based at Lower Hutt's urban Kōkiri Marae. The group focuses on a holistic Māori model of care for cancer sufferers. 

Mahuika says openly talking with people who have walked the journey with cancer and lived to tell their story has helped her come to terms with the disease. 

"Be with people that are like minded and you could talk your cancer talk. And help each other and ask each other, how are you feeling today? Or what's been happening with you?" Mahuika said. 

Janis Awatere knows too well the effects of cancer upon a loved one. Her husband Potini was diagnosed with Chondrosarcoma in 2014 and died at the age of 65. 

Awatere says, "We had three weeks in the Wellington Hospital which were absolutely terrible. The worst experience ever."

Awatere says it was the philosophy of the Te Mauri concept that got her through her tough times, "It's about sharing their stories being who they want to be without saying something wrong that might upset somebody."

The Te Mauri cancer support group was established in February last year and operates under Mana Wāhine, a Whānau Ora initiative, run by a group of Māori health providers. 

Mana Wahine manager Tira Albert says, "Te Mauri began because of a gap, an identified gap in a research project carried out in 2010. And it was about Māori in cancer and primary care. And it identified that there was a gap in support care, cancer support care programmes."

Albert says Te Mauri has a holistic Māori approach that is not common in other groups and each session draws on the themes of Te Pō, Te Wheiao, Te Ao Mārama and Mauri Ora.

"For our whānau it's a wairua journey. It's about reclaiming our mātauranga Māori. It's about mana motuhake. It's reconnecting our whānau to their whakapapa and their tupuna," Albert said.

Mahuika says in closing, "Especially our Māori people because they're so whakamā, eh, to go out there. And I'd love them to go there because there's a lot of them that need help. They need help in their homes, help to understand what's happening to them."

The pilot programme has now ended and the programme has utilised all of its funding, they are in need of support to continue their work with Māori with cancer.