Juanita Raunatiri and her parents share more than just blood ties.

Juanita, her mother Helen and her father Waimoana have all been diagnosed with different cancers. At one point the Moerewa family had wondered if it was contagious.

"Boom, boom, boom... there we were struck down one by one like we caught it off each other. The most devastating thing and the fight for life began," Juanita said.

And fight for life they did.


Next weekend the trio, who have overcome their cancers, will join their 16-member team named Tumanako - the Maori word for hope - to walk in the Relay for Life.

Juanita said entering the event had not only meant they had been able to raise money for the Cancer Society but it had been healing for the family.

"I think it was a way to deal with cancer. It is hard to talk to people about it unless they've experienced it themselves and the relay has given us a lot of hope. We have been able to engage with other families who have been affected by cancer and it is also a fun and happy event."

Cancer has been a part of the Raunatiri family's life for the past 11 years. Juanita had been battling a breast disease since the age of 16 and developed breast cancer not long after her 21st birthday. While Juanita was fighting her disease, Helen was diagnosed with skin cancer in 2005 and after several years in remission, it knocked her down again.

If that wasn't hard enough Juanita was also diagnosed with melanoma in 2011 and two years later Waimoana was diagnosed with lung cancer. At times the family have thought "this is just not fair".

When Waimoana was diagnosed with cancer, Juanita had her mum at the Cancer Society's Daffodil House while her sister and brother were at home looking after her dad.

"It's been a struggle. We're a very reserved, private family we didn't go around telling everyone we were sick. But by coming together as one, we got through it."

Although Juanita said they were a private family, she seems comfortable talking about what her family endured and she acts as a spokeswoman for her family most of the time. But when I acknowledged how difficult it must have been for them, Waimoana talked about the moment he found out he only had a small chance of living.

"It was a hard thing, one night I had to get my lung removed and I was given a 20 per cent chance to live. That was a big reality check, a huge wake up call," he said.

With trips from Moerewa to Whangarei to Auckland for various operations and treatment, cancer has taken a toll on the family emotionally and financially but they remain in good spirits.

"We stayed positive and we never let cancer pull us apart. We became stronger as a family definitely."

-If you would like to donate to Team Tumanako visit https://northlandrelayforlife2016.everydayhero.com/nz/tumanako

-The Relay for Life, an annual overnight relay with each team having to have a member on the track at any time for the entire 24 hours, is next Saturday at the Athletics Arena at Kensington Park from 2pm.