Kiwi Ferns captain Hireme brings wedding forward for her dying mother

updated By Kereama Wright


She's a Black Ferns and Rugby League superwoman, renowned for bone-crushing tackles and sustaining immense pressure. 

But nothing prepared Honey Hireme-Smiler for the fight of her life. 

"It's hard to see mum suffer. But you know, she's so strong. I knew mum was strong, but she's so strong fighting this," she says.

Hireme-Smiler has put her Halberg Foundation, Sky TV and Warriors responsibilities on hold to nurse her 62-year-old mother, who is fighting a losing battle with a rare form of stomach cancer. 

"Six weeks and three days ago mum went into the hospital with a sore puku. About three days later we found out she had an aggressive form of stomach cancer which had already spread into her bowel. In that time she’s had three different operations with different complications. And it’s quite aggressive and it seems to be slowly moving through mum's body." Hireme-Smiler said. 

"Monday, we were informed that there was nothing else we could do and mums too unwell to have chemotherapy. So her wishes were to actually come home to our Hireme whānau homestead in Putaruru to have her final days here."

The wider Hireme whānau, a large extended whānau, have gathered in Putaruru to comfort Hireme-Smiler's mother. 

But before they returned home from Hamilton, the famous Honey Hireme, married her fiance, Rochelle and became Honey Hireme-Smiler. 

"We were engaged last year just after my NRL season and we’d planned to get married in February, but when we realized that mum's time frame was quite short, we knew that mum would want to be here and I wanted mum to be here for my wedding."

"We had the wedding last Friday in the chapel at the hospital so that mum could come down in her wheelchair and be apart of it and it was lovely. It was a beautiful day and everything sort of fell into place. Two weeks to organize it but I’m just grateful to have mum here and she was able to hold on for the wedding."

"It meant heaps, just to see her there and see her smiling. It took a lot of energy for her to hope out of her hospital bed and jump into a wheelchair and come downstairs to the hospital chapel. But just to see her tears of joy for me was just really heartwarming."

Rochelle Hireme-Smiler says, "the last seven weeks has been quite fast. It's been an emotional roller coaster." 

"Both my parents have passed, so Karen has been like another mum to me, so it was awesome to be able to share that moment with her." 

Stomach cancer is the 11th most common cancer in New Zealand and the eighth-most common cause of cancer deaths. One in 110 people will be diagnosed with stomach cancer during their lifetime. The vast majority of these cases are sporadic. However, in about 1% of cases, there is a genetic predisposition to hereditary diffuse gastric cancer.

"I’ve had three great aunts. My kokos sisters and also mums first cousin and I also had a first cousin who had breast cancer. She’s thankfully survived that, but it is connected in some way. So we’re all being checked and tested and mum's already sent her test away to the genetic clinic in Auckland." 

"I’ve promised myself that once I get some time then I’ll definitely look to be tested. Obviously it’s genetic so mum's encouraged our whole whānau, specifically the female line as we’ve got a history of other females in our whānau that have suffered the same illness. So just really encouraging everyone to get checked because this has happened quite quickly for mum."