Last year Te Houkurareo Tipa was a typical 3-year-old, inquisitive, outgoing and fun-loving.

Now, he is fighting for his life.

In December, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma - a form of cancer that is commonly found in the adrenal glands.

"He's been given a 70 per cent chance of beating this and he is doing okay," mother Kare Tipa says - the pain evident in her voice.


"He looks pretty bad, but you know he is supposed to get that way in order for him to have a good chance of survival."

Before his diagnosis, Te Houkurareo gave everything a go, attended athletics and loved to "rough and tumble" with his brothers. He loves sea creatures, dinosaurs, the Māui narratives, transport and kapa haka.

"He is a child that didn't have any fear to try anything."

It all came to a standstill in November when he began having fluctuating fevers and walking "funny".

"He was favouring one hip and he was walking without bending his legs, so he was quite stiff," Tipa said.

After multiple visits to the doctors, x-rays and misdiagnoses, a "last resort" bone-marrow biopsy on his thigh bone found abnormal bone marrow.

Two days later they were sent to Starship, where an ultrasound found a cancerous tumour growing on his adrenal gland. Four days later the 5cm tumour was removed.

"The adrenal gland regulates your hormones and affects your ability to use fight-or-flight mode," Tipa said. "It wasn't big and we felt we caught it in good time."


They stayed at Starship for the first six weeks where they spent Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Te Houkurareo Tipa (left) has been diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Photo / Supplied
Te Houkurareo Tipa (left) has been diagnosed with neuroblastoma. Photo / Supplied

Now, Te Houkurareo's little body has been through five rounds of chemotherapy, with one more round left. However, it has come at a cost, with no hair left and his hearing and speech having deteriorated.

In a month's time, he will endure a bone marrow transplant after which he will be in complete isolation for six weeks. And then he has radiation and immunotherapy.

"So he will get sicker and sicker before he gets better."

His compromised immunity has meant he has had to stay close to home.

"I can't expose him to anything. I can't even take him to the picture theatre ... if he picks up a virus, it could kill him."

Tipa has found it hard seeing her little boy's body deteriorate.

"I'm okay with the expected things, but it is the things that kind of hit you left-field that you're not prepared for."

Te Houkurareo will get blood tests done two or three times a week to see if his red cells or his platelets are dropping.

"He just knows it's going to be painful so he just starts screaming straight away. I guess that's good in a way - that he keeps fighting."

Te Houkurareo has made a list of things to do when he gets better, Tipa said.

"He wants to ride horses and motorbikes, go whale watching and helicopter to the top of his maunga [mountain]."

He was brought up with te reo as his first language and was in a Kohanga Reo since he was 2. It's been challenging to continue his te reo while he's been ill.

Te Houkurareo's illness has been particularly tough on her second youngest son, who Tipa shares custody of.

"If he's been around any bugs or he's been sick or his dad has been sick then that means that he can't come and visit so he misses out on time with me and Te Houkurareo.

"Te Houkurareo really needs Te Manahau as part of his healing just for his spirit and brotherliness. It's not only the physical but it is the spiritual."

The mother of seven has had to take sick leave from her job to be by her son's side and her adult children have cared for Te Houkurareo when she works.

"The Ngāti Kahungunu community has been very caring and supportive; holding kapa haka concerts for him and Ka Pai Cuppa Waka donating a day's worth of business takings."

The prayers, support and goodwill of others, along with a counsellor, self-love and positive attitude has helped her through.

She has experienced a "banner of love" in the region, particularly from Ngāti Kahungunu, her iwi Ngāi Tahu and through her kapa haka group Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga.

"Te Houkurareo's Nan and Aunty have been constant for him, and there for when I have needed to work things out emotionally - this journey has witnessed to me the importance of village, of community."

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