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The Shepherd Sisters
  • The Shepherd Sisters
  • 29th Apr. 2022

CanTeen event regulars

Dubbed the Shepherd sisters, Christina, 22, and younger sister Alexandra, 15, are CanTeen event regulars. Even though the sisters have a 7-year age gap, their smiling faces have still shown up at CanTeen events together, both face-to-face and online, for the past few years.

Christina was diagnosed with Right Thalamic Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma when she was 18 months old and can remember being in the hospital on her 4th birthday.

“I just remember getting green lollipops from one of my aunties. I was really little.”

Though Christina was young when she had cancer the effects of her treatment and having cancer while she was still developing brought on long term effects.

“I don’t have a peripheral vision on my right side, and my right arm and foot are weaker than my left.”

“There have been challenges, but I’ve gotten used to them. Over time I’ve figured out ways to get around it.”

“Because of my right side and balance issues, I can’t use a bicycle, instead I have a tricycle. So, I can bike to the mall on my trike, which also has a basket so I can get my groceries.”

Christina joined CanTeen as soon as she turned 13 years old, and Alexandra, “the taller sister” she points out, joined seven years later, on her 13th birthday.

“I would keep coming home and showing off all the fun things I did at CanTeen to make Alexandra jealous. And then she turned 13 and goes ‘I get to come with you now.’”

“At first, I wasn’t super keen, it was my thing.” They glance and laugh with each other.

Alexandra shared a memory from her first CanTeen event with Christina and how she was able to connect with other rangatahi her age.

“At my first CanTeen event I only knew Christina, I’m not super social and she was busy talking with her friends, but when I was sitting down, I bonded with someone over fairy bread!”

The Shepherd sisters have attended a lot of events, including MKC, a regular face-to-face event in Christchurch, and numerous online events run by both Aotearoa and Australian CanTeen youth workers.

“Alexandra joined not long before covid, so we didn’t get to attend too many face-to-face events together, but we have joined a lot of online events; CanQueer, gaming events, drawing events, the virtual balls.” Christina shares.

“That was during the first lockdown; we got dressed up and had matching flower crowns. There were dancing activities and some prizes, and we got the best-dressed sisters!”

One event that the Shepherd sisters became regulars at is CanQueer, CanTeen’s online event for rangatahi who identify as part of the queer community, as well as fabulous allies. It’s a fun, safe space for rangatahi to join, be themself, and celebrate their diversity.

“I like it because everyone in the group has something in common and the same people continue to join. It’s easier to make connections with the same people – particularly over Zoom – and it’s fun!” Said Christina.

Alexandra added that “there are a lot of activities we’ve done, and people have shared stories of their experiences.”

“You turn up to the events, and sometimes new people join, but there are people that are always there – the core group. The OGs!” says Christina.

Events support rangatahi to form connections with others who can understand what they’re going through and help to reduce isolation and distress by providing rangatahi with a space to have a mental break and some fun.

So, what is it that keeps the sisters coming back to CanTeen events?

“It’s a fun time to hang out in this crazy hectic world.”