My view on Relay for Life—Te Ara Toiora

My view on Relay for Life—Te Ara Toiora

Staff member Sarah Forster shares why she’s taking part in the 24-hour walking relay this year as part of the University’s team—and why you should too.

Kia ora, I’m Sarah.

Most people who know me could tell you that I am not a fit person. But right now, my dad is fighting cancer. And he has been for 17 years. Without the work of the Cancer Society advocating for new medicines and helping with costs of travel and accommodation (he lives in Greymouth, treatment is in Christchurch), his life would look very different.

He is why I am committed to Relay for Life.

When I was 25, I was in Scotland on a working holiday. I had a phone call from my mum one night—Dad had cancer. I’d been told my whole life that it was bad personal habits that would cause it, and my then-57-year-old dad had never been that person. He had completed the solo Coast-to-Coast triathlon about a year prior. He liked a beer, but he wasn’t that much of a drinker. He’d never smoked in his life. I couldn’t believe it.

I finally got flights home a couple of months later. Mum—who had only told me once the worst was past—said he was okay, and the cancer was being treated with intravenous chemotherapy, but I needed to check for myself.

I was shocked when I got home to find him so … lacking in capability. He couldn’t stand for long periods of time. He wasn’t running anymore. He couldn’t kayak, or bike.

His diagnosis was Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia, as well as polycythaemia, which saw him having to go to the hospital to get blood drawn every month or so to reduce the number of red blood cells in his circulation. He was given an eight-year life expectancy after that diagnosis.

Through sheer determination, he went into remission and started getting fit again. He completed many more triathlons, a couple more Coast-to-Coasts, both as an individual and in a team, and several half-marathons. He won the over 60’s section of the Buller Half Marathon when he was 63.

When he was 68, the cancer returned. He had to start taking hydroxyurea, which had nauseous side-effects. Fortunately, when ruxolitinib was funded not long after his overall wellbeing improved massively.

He is now 73. Eight years older than he was told he would be.

He’s recently had his second lot of secondary squamous cell carcinomas removed from his head and neck. This involved removing tumours, and a nerve in his neck, which has temporarily impacted his muscle memory around his mouth. He also got to sample some newly funded technology—with a BTM, biodegradable temporising matrix, he doesn’t need a skin graft on his head. This means one less wound and a better quality of life.

If it wasn’t for the work of the Cancer Society and those that support them campaigning for support for Pharmac to fund cancer drugs; providing specialised information about cancer to carers and their families; and providing transport and places to stay for those seeking cancer treatment, Dad’s journey may not have been as long—or as easy.

He may not have lived long enough to see his grandchildren, now 12 and 10, be born.

Dad isn’t the only person in my family who has been affected by cancer. My cousin lost his young son just recently to leukaemia; my grandma died of undiagnosed cervical cancer. I would guess that every single person in Aotearoa, possibly the world, knows somebody living with cancer; or at least, knows someone who is close to someone.

This Relay for Life, I’ll be thinking about dad. I’ll be thinking about my cousin. My grandma. Her mum. And I’m raising money for the Cancer Society to support those who are seeking treatment for cancer, so they can access funds to help with transport and accommodation and live longer lives because of the treatment the Society has campaigned towards.

Join us at Relay for Life and raise money to support people living with cancer.

Register online with our special code.

Students are welcome to use WELLVIC for free entry, sponsored by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. Staff can use the code WELLVUW23, to get a discounted rate of $15.

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