Saturday, May 9, 2009

`They've given me 11 months to live...But I reckon I can live for 50 more years'

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Anthony Hubbard - Sunday Star Times
Last updated 05:00 10/05/2009

With courage: David Te Maipi's new moko is about family.

DAVID TE MAIPI was 15 when a huge lump came up on his face. The doctors gave him antibiotics and told him to massage it: they thought a lymph gland was blocked. The lump, covering half his face, didn't shrink. Then they did a biopsy. When was that? he asks. September 2006, says his mother, Alma. It was cancer.

Chemo and radiation treatment didn't help, "so they just had to cut it out", says David, now 17. "It took 12 hours." He went back to school "and later I relapsed".

He had a big lump on his right leg. Then he had more chemo and radiation and they had to cut that lump out too.

"And then it came back again in February this year. And now it's back in my leg and my chest." "And your lungs," says his mother.

David says: "They've given me 11 months to live, but I think I can live that out. I reckon I can live for 50 more years," and he laughs. David laughs a lot. He's "not too bothered" about having a fatal illness. "It's just something that happened, I guess, and there's not really much I can do about it."

People in the street notice his battered face and ask what happened to him. "I say, `Cancer.' Then they say, `Oh, sorry.' And I go, `No, it's OK."' David laughs briefly. "I like it when people ask. I guess I like telling them in a way. Yes, it's not all just sitting in there, you're letting it out."

David is sitting on the edge of a seat in his bedroom at the family home in Te Marua, near Upper Hutt. The huge lump on his leg makes it too uncomfortable to sit back. Opposite is the enormous plasma TV given to him by the Make a Wish Foundation. "Me and mum have got a motto: take it one day at a time and see how that goes."

When he heard it was terminal, David made a bucket list of the things he wanted to do. He skydived out of an Air Force Hercules at Whenuapai. He is going to bungy-jump. Last week he had a moko done on his back. Each part of the design represents someone: his mum, his step-dad Mark, his grandparents, his two stepbrothers. The cancer has made him closer to Mark, a painter-decorator. It's made him appreciate things he didn't appreciate before, "like eating. I haven't eaten for 2 1/2 years". He lifts his T-shirt to show the metal plug in his stomach where the tube goes in. Cancer has made him grow up faster than he should have, he thinks.

David's always been cheerful, says his mother. "Yeah, he's always been a pain in the butt. Nothing gets him down. I mean, every day I'm down, but David's David, everybody knows what David's like. He just gets on with life." The two younger boys, Samuel, 11, and Kain, nine, resented the time she spent with David when he first got sick. "They'd say, `Oh, you're always with David, everything's for David, you've never got time for us." The family spends the weekend watching rugby and league, fighting and cheering. David has taken to football as well: he supports Arsenal, Alma Manchester United. "And who just won?" she says, triumphantly.

Alma had to give up her job as a teacher's aide to care for David. And now it's hard to find another job. This is not a wealthy family. They have to take the bus to Te Omanga Hospice down in Lower Hutt. The Child Cancer Foundation gave them petrol vouchers to pay for the trip to Auckland for treatment. Canteen has been wonderful, too, she says. David loves the hospice: the gardens "I love flowers" and the art therapy with Mary. He has made two masks. Here are my beads of courage, he says. "You get a bead for each kind of treatment. The white ones are for chemotherapy. The dark ones are for radiation. I've got one for my birthday I had two birthdays in hospital. There's a brown one for hair loss. I can't remember what the rest are for. What are the blue ones for, mum? Isolation." "He's got more than 1800," says Alma.

David is a Christian. "I believe there's something after, something waiting for us." But when he was first diagnosed, "I kind of had my doubts about him, about God. I was thinking, where are you in my time of need?" He blamed himself for getting sick. He thought it was a punishment for all the bad things he'd done in the past.

Nowadays he doesn't feel sad for himself, but "I feel like I'm the one who's hurt my family and mum. That's why I feel like I have to stay strong for them."

He goes to Upper Hutt College "because it got boring at home". It gives him a routine and it's nice hooking up with his friends. Sometimes it's easier talking to them. At home it's more serious. With his mates "it's like lay back and chill, jokes and stuff". He doesn't have a girlfriend. One of his poems says: "There's this girl in my life I've grown to love. I want it to be more but I don't think she does." No, he says, laughing, it didn't come to anything.

This week is Hospice Awareness Week. More than 13,000 people received care and support from hospice in 2008, including 4800 admissions to in-patient facilities. More than 7000 people volunteered their time to work for Hospice NZ.

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