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  • Hirini
  • 23rd Sep. 2020

I knew my voice would be heard

Hirini was living with his family in India when he was first diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukaemia at just 12 years old. It was a stressful time for the entire family, not only was it a scary time, but they also had to quickly decide whether to return home to Aotearoa or stay in India for Hirini to undergo treatment.

“After I was diagnosed, everything was a whirlwind.

“Mum and Dad chose for us to come home, and within three days we were on a plane, and I was straight into Wellington hospital for intensive chemotherapy.

“I didn’t say much out loud at the time. But I was determined to win this battle.”

For rangatahi, having cancer and undergoing treatment can be a scary and confusing time and it can have massive impacts on both their physical and mental health.

“I didn’t really understand what cancer was or that it was this super-lethal thing and when your parents are freaking out a little bit, you as a kid, are a little worried but mostly confused.

“Treatment was hard, I’d left my friends in India and didn’t have many connections when we returned to Wellington, so it was really just my family that I relied on at first. Our home was an hour from the hospital, so I remember Mum would come in early in the morning and work from my bedside. Then Dad would come in the afternoon and stay late into the night.

“Mentally, there were some tough times. During treatment, in the depths of the night, your body is sore, it’s hard to sleep, and there are nurse check-ins, so you can get tired and frustrated at times. This meant the ups and downs of my mental health came around more frequently during treatment.”

Cancer can impact all areas of your life, including family dynamics, friendships, and socialising.

“As a teenager, you’re already trying to figure out your individuality and then you throw cancer in the mix. It’s challenging.

“The support my friends gave me was to treat me like a normal
teenager and actively tried to include me in activities, which was a
good distraction from the cancer stuff. I am so grateful that my friends never treated me differently.

“However, my social life was definitely not as adventurous as your
‘normal teenager’. I was a little bit more fragile, physically, and it can
take new friends a while to figure out how to normalise and accept
cancer as being a part of who you are at that time.”

The physical impacts of cancer and undergoing treatment can also
affect hobbies and it can be a massive adjustment as rangatahi have to come to terms with life after cancer.

“Cancer mostly impacted my sports, due to the affect treatment had on my body.

“I love sports, but my ability to play the sports that I loved was taken from me for more than three years whilst I was on treatment. It became a big uphill journey to reclaim my athleticism and enjoy sports like I used to.

“I connected with CanTeen early on whilst I was in the hospital, and I joined the monthly movie nights CanTeen held at the hospital during this time. They had pizza, which was way better than hospital food, and I met some other members.


“Everyone was so accepting; your cancer wasn’t a big scary thing that made people feel uncomfortable. They understood what I was going through and were able to be supportive, whether it was talking about the tough times in the hospital or even the good times. We could joke around about the weird little things that happen, that you don’t think about at first or wouldn’t get if you hadn’t experienced cancer.

“CanTeen gave me a space where I could be understood, where I knew my voice would be heard, and where I could be vulnerable.”

CanTeen’s support services for rangatahi are completely free and include individual support and therapy, peer support events, therapeutic programmes and camps, and specialist online support.

“I attended events as often as I could, at first for the free food, but then for the friends and company. CanTeen has given me lifelong friends that I’ve had unforgettable experiences with.

“Mostly though, I had one-to-one support over the phone with my Psychosocial Support Worker, to check in and talk about my mental health. The sessions helped me rationalise where I was at the time and were mostly after my treatment and throughout university because I wasn’t good at checking in with myself.

”I wouldn’t be who I am without CanTeen. It’s been a part of my life for literally half my life.”

CanTeen provides support to rangatahi throughout their treatment and beyond because for many rangatahi the impacts of cancer don’t just end after treatment.