orld Champion Woolhandler Reveals Fight Against Cancer
On behalf of Shearing Sports New Zealand
March 1, 2013
World Champion Woolhandler Reveals Fight Against Cancer
Record-breaking defending Golden Shears woolhandling champion Joanne Kumeroa knows even the slightest effort can be quite devastating as she battles a chronic cancer, but it’s not stopping her from doing her bit to save others.
Like competing in today’s heats in a bid to qualify for her 14th Golden Shears final and a seventh title in a competition career spanning 24 years, or tonight shearing in an all-female event as a promotion and fundraiser for cancer research.
Amazingly, she qualified ninth on a list of 16 for the woolhandling quarterfinals tomorrow morning, and while desperately wanting to shear the night event how much she would be involved depended on her condition during the day.
The 43-year-old, born in Whanganui, raised in the woolsheds of the Maniatoto, Central Otago, and now based for several years in Hamilton, Vic, hadn’t competed for a year and concedes there’ve been doubts she would ever do so again, going immediately into chemotherapy after learning only in August that she has cervical cancer.
In an interview before competing today, she said that a group of about 20 people “close to me” heeded her advice to “get it checked.”
“I’ve helped save two,” she said. “They’re getting themselves fixed. But they wouldn’t have known.”
“For me it is a bit scary,” she said, “but I didn’t come here for me, I’m here for all those other women who may have cancer, and need to do something about it.”
She feels “spoilt” to have so many friends in an industry and sport overwhelmingly endowed with camaraderie, supporting and helping.
It’s now some years since she first started contributing $20 a month to children’s cancer research, but never thought she’d one day be fighting her own battle.
The first hint of any problem was when she started blood-clotting last year, went to a doctor and was told she should get a scan as soon as possible.
“Admittedly, I was going to just drive away,” she said, but she fronted-up, and learnt almost immediately a hysterectomy was needed.
The operation was never possible and treatment began, as she also tried to deal with a new problem - the recovery of 17-year-old daughter Kendall, who had broken her neck in a motorcycle crash near Guyra, NSW.
“I had to physically bring her back on to her feet,” she said, and she kept her own plight secret.
“I just had to swallow mine. And concentrate on my daughter,” she said.
She has tried not to think about her situation, but was devastated when she began losing her hair, and she says: “I didn’t handle it well, but then we shaved it off. It blew my mind, I hated it.”
One change in mindset came at the national Maori Sports Awards in Auckland in November, where she first appeared shrouded and conscious.
By the end of the night, she had begun to relax, having won the teams award with protégé Joel Henare. Together they’d won her third World teams title at last year’s Golden Shears, although Henare, at the age of 20, beat her in the Individual final, which she’d won in 2003 and 2005.
Her treatment is based at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, Australia’s only public hospital specialising in cancer, and after onl a week back in New Zealand, she off to continue treatment next week.
She expects to sepnd “six hours on the drip,”’ and also to front-up and shear a few sheep 24 hours later at the "Ducks on the Pond" women-only, cancer research fundraiser at historic Clunie, near Harrow, Vic, on March 9, where she hopes to be among about 40 women working for the cause.
The shed's been a working woolshed since 1885, and was once, like many Australian woolsheds, no-go territory for women, hence the name of the event - along-time shearers' waring down the board that women were in the vicinity and it was time to tone-down the language.
Kumeroa, grew up in the woolsheds – a photograph among the whanau depicts her helping with the washing at the age of about two in Central Otago where mum Heather was cooking for a shearing gang run by George Potae, of Milton.
By 14 she was working regularly in the sheds, and, skipping the lower grades, entered her first competition at Alexandra in 1989. Six months later she competed in her first Golden Shears final, eventually winning in 1995, 2001, 2004, and 2010-2012.
Seven months into a fight against cancer, multiple World champion Joanne Kumeroa competes in today's heats of the Golden Shears Open Woolhandling Championship in Masterton, going for a fourth win in a row. PHOTO/Barbara Newton