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Tupuna close-by at new Māori cancer support group

"Te Pō is about the beginning of time. Everything was dark. There was nothing. That’s like getting the diagnosis."

Wairua, spirituality, and mauri ora holistic wellbeing bookended with karakia are the essence of Te Mauri, a new cancer support group based at Lower Hutt’s Kokiri Marae.

Mana Wahine, a group of Māori health providers from around the Wellington Region, organise the group. It includes about 25 people, mostly Māori women, who meet every fortnight for at least an hour and share their journeys of living with cancer.

An holistic Māori model of care is an approach they say is not common in other groups.

"There’s a difference between the Cancer Society support groups in the area. There’s nothing wrong with them, but Te Mauri has that essence of life that was missing for me," a Ngāti Awa iwi woman diagnosed with Leukaemia says.

"It’s about your wairua, the spiritual side of life, because you lose your mana when you’re sick [but] your tupuna, your ancestors, are with you."

Within the group, four kaumatua [elders] hold the mauri or life force, she said.

"A kaumatua blessed our home with water and checked I had been remembering to eat, and that my home was warm. It might be just a gentle voice, but in that gentle voice was comfort."

Kaitiaki Janis Awatere said each session draws on the themes - konae or pou - of Te Pō, Te Whei Ao, Te Ao Mārama and Mauri Ora.

She says people can enter a dark depression after a cancer diagnosis.

"Te Pō is about trying to find the light, trying to see a way out of it is Te Whei Ao, Te Ao Mārama."

Mana Wahine kaiwhakahaere, Tira Albert, said the impetus for Te Mauri came from a 2010 research paper ‘Māori with cancer - the role of primary care’, which saw a gap in support programmes by Māori for Māori.

The group was formed in 2017 as part of a Massey University research project, and initially received a limited amount of research funding spread over three years from the Health Research Council.

The group, which has grown through word-of-mouth, was a finalist in the Ururangi - Mauri Ora (living our values) category of Hutt Valley DHB’s Matariki Achieving Excellence in Māori Health Awards 2019.


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