National | Cancer

Moko’s father diagnosed with cancer along with seven-year-old daughter

Eight years after the brutal killing of Moko Rangitoheriri, his father Jordon Rangitoheriri is reliving the trauma of losing a child, as he battles cancer alongside his 7-year-old daughter.

“It’s like reliving the whole scenario again, except this is a prolonged process of triggering emotions and trying to deal with the worst case scenario,” Rangitoheriri said.

The 37-year-old noticed a lump on his neck in April last year while shaving, and was initially prescribed antibiotics for a month which “just wasn’t working”.

“I was getting really bad headaches and things just didn’t feel right. Then we kept pushing for biopsies and scans,” Rangitoheriri said.

“Then after my little brother died, they took out my tonsils and found the primary cancer in the left tonsil. I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in October.”

Over the past year, Rangitoheriri has been fighting the cancer, undergoing multiple operations, while grieving the loss of two of his siblings who died within five months of each other.

But, he said this grief had to be pushed aside, as just last week, he learnt his 7-year-old daughter, Kaylee, had been diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma.

“I feel numb. My big worry is, I’ve already lost a son. I’ve already lost a child. I’m trying to stop those thoughts going through my head every second and every minute of the day,” Rangitoheriri said.

“Even the emotions of losing two of my siblings, I’ve had to push that aside just so I can try and deal with this situation and be there for her, the best way I can.”

His son Moko, was killed by his caregivers in 2015, while Rangitoheriri was on home detention, having just got out of prison.

Moko’s death became one of New Zealand’s most high-profile child abuse cases, sparking protests and a petition with thousands of signatures to Parliament.

The killers, Tania Shailer and David Haerewa, were sentenced to 17 years for manslaughter.

Rangitoheriri said although his daughter’s diagnosis had been “triggering” following the death of Moko, he had come a long way in his healing journey, and had strategies in place to help cope.

“Kaylee’s situation is probably the most hardest and most draining thing I’m dealing with at the moment. I just care about her and her pulling through this,” he said.

“It’s really triggering. But in the past I would have handled it a different way. Now, I’ve got a lot of tools and strategies on how to deal with things.”

He said his whānau, including his wife and six children, had been keeping him grounded, providing wraparound support.

“Every struggle, every emotion, every bad thought, every doubt, the thought of them is what brings me back to reality.”

Rangitoheriri said he had also found an outlet in riding his motorbike which helped take his mind off “bad thoughts”.

“My advice to anyone going through a tough time is to ground yourself and always remind yourself of your why.

“I’d also just encourage people to reach out, speak up, ask for help and to check on your family, get your kids checked, get yourself checked.”

His wife, Lariah Rangitoheriri, said she was still in “shock and disbelief” about her child’s diagnosis.

“It was quite overwhelming and heartbreaking when we found out about my husband’s diagnosis and now I feel very numb and just trying to save all my energy for Kaylee,” she said.

“She’s so pure, innocent and so loving, and she doesn’t deserve this. She’s just the most sweetest, most funniest, most active and playful little girl.”

Lariah said although Kaylee was officially diagnosed last week, she had been really sick for “a long time”.

“We first noticed a little lump in her inner thigh in November, and I took her to the doctor. She got on some antibiotics but it didn’t do anything,” Lariah said.

“Then we noticed the lump was getting larger. . . gradually over time it got really large to probably the size of a small plum. Then it was multiple hospital visits because she was deteriorating.

“She wasn’t eating, she was losing weight, she was having fevers, pains, body aches and no energy. . . then we were told on Wednesday that she had a very rare form of lymphoma cancer.”

The 7-year-old has been put on to an oral treatment plan and will go for another scan in three months time to determine whether chemotherapy is needed, Lariah said.

“[Kaylee] is doing okay through all of this. She has her moments where she’s really down and in pain and she does ask me a lot, ‘why can’t I just be normal? Why do I have to have cancer?’ which is really hard to navigate.

“[But] she is getting so much love and support and attention, which she’s just fully lapping all of that up. She’s getting lots of gifts and beautiful messages and cards. I think she’s loving this part.”

Lariah along with her husband Jordon are co-founders of non-profit organisation Tawa Foundation - a reintegration programme for Māori and Pasifika tāne.

But due to the illness in the family, they’ve had scale back their work.

A givealittle page has been set up by anti-violence movement She Is Not Your Rehab on behalf of the whānau.

“I had some hesitations and reservations about give a little page at first. . . we are givers, not takers,” Lariah said.

“But I’ve realized I need to surrender right now because it’s bigger than what we can handle in our own bubble and we do need a whole village to help us right now.”

- Stuff