Trainee teacher Whitinga Harris was in a classroom at Western Heights Primary School in October last year when he suddenly he passed out.
The 31-year-old father was rushed to the emergency department where he underwent tests.
The results were his worst nightmare. The previous few months of feeling a bit unwell coupled with unexplained weight loss started to make sense.
Harris had aggressive colon cancer.
It's now spread to his stomach and his family are in a race against time to raise $100,000 for an unfunded drug they have been told will allow him to spend more time with his sons, Waaka, 9, and Heremia, 12.
Harris' family moved to Rotorua just over a year ago from Auckland for a better lifestyle and richer cultural upbringing.
Family spokeswoman Ruby Grace, who is the mother of Harris' sons, said Rotorua was great for them.
Grace, whose parents live in Rotorua, was teaching at Ngongotahā Primary School and Harris was finishing his teaching degree doing his training at Western Heights Primary School.
Harris' bleak diagnosis has changed everything.
A month ago the family moved from Rotorua to Ōtaua in Northland to be closer to Harris' mother, who is helping to care for him as he undergoes chemotherapy.
Harris has had major surgery to remove a 2kg tumour and is now on this third round of chemotherapy. Once the chemo loses its effect, which is expected in about eight months, his time is likely to be measured in weeks.
Grace said they had no illusions about the immunotherapy drug Keytruda being some kind of miracle cure, but it did represent hope and Harris' best chance of more time.
Cancer specialists have told them the drug which could extend Harris' life is not funded for his type of cancer, leaving his family — which is rich in aroha and support but not in money — to raise $100,000 in a matter of months.
Grace said oncologists told the family immunotherapy was suitable for Harris' type of cancer and had been shown to stop or shrink tumours.
However, it costs $87,000, plus hefty administration fees and an extra $1300 every three weeks for two years.
''The kicker is that you can be eligible for state funding if you have lung cancer or melanoma, so it's not like it's some kind of magical, imaginary drug. It's being used right now in our hospitals.''
Harris' latest CT scan had shown new tumours in his stomach lining and liver, ''so the sooner we can start immunotherapy the better it is for Whiti''.
''We're super positive and we have lots of backers, but $100,000 is a lot of money and the short time frame puts a lot of pressure on us. Our family's not well off and we live on Māori land so we can't mortgage the house.''
Grace said they planned to hold an event in Rotorua and auction where locals would have the opportunity to support them.
A family-only gathering and auction is being held on April 6 at Whakarewarewa Primary School but a larger community event would be planned after that. Her father, Rotorua singer Jack Grace, who starred in the recent Lakeside concert, was on board to help to with music for the event.
Grace said she would love to hear from anyone wanting to donate services or prizes for the auction.
Grace said Harris, a former IT technician, was remaining positive and was focused on trying to raise the funds.
"Whiti is such a positive and strong role model for our children."
She said the family hoped to return to Rotorua one day.
"The kids really flourished there and if things work out, we would love to come back and pick up from where we left off."
In a bid to raise the money the family has set up Givealittle and Facebook pages called "From graduation to hospital gown".
Many of the donations so far are from whānau — Harris' young nieces in Australia, for example, donate their pocket money every week — but others are from strangers, many of whom leave heart-warming messages.
The family is also organising a raft of fundraising events in Northland.
Harris said he was tired most days due to the chemo but was planning to put his degree into practice by home-schooling his sons.
''That's my passion, to show them some life skills before I pass on.''
Despite everything he described the months since his diagnosis as an ''awesome journey''.
''You find there's a lot of people who are sympathetic and empathetic. It's nice to hear those things before you die, before the tangi. We've made friends and connections with a really diverse range of people, people we wouldn't usually mix with. That is the silver lining we like to grasp on to as we fall down the rabbit hole.''
Western Heights Primary School principal Brent Griffin said staff were heartbroken when they heard about Harris' cancer.
He urged the city to get behind his fundraising efforts because he epitomised everything you wanted in a teacher for your child. His school would be taking part in the fundraising drive too.
"He is one of the loveliest blokes you will ever meet. I watched him teach and offered him a contract within a week. He is absolutely outstanding."
Griffin said when he told the staff he had given Harris a job this year, they erupted in applause.
"We were so excited to have him. When you think of those X factor teachers, he is one of them and I've told him if he comes through this there will be a job waiting for him."
If you can donate to a Rotorua auction event, please contact Ruby Grace on (021) 048 3853 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Go to www.facebook.com/grad2gown or givealittle.co.nz/cause/from-graduation-to-hospital-gown if you want to help.
'Get seen, get checked'
Even if all else fails, Whitinga Harris and his whānau hope they can help others by encouraging them to seek medical help early.
''We hope to spread awareness of bowel and colon cancer, among young people especially. A lot of them are going under the radar,'' he said.
Harris had always kept good health so when he was diagnosed he hadn't seen a doctor for about 10 years and didn't even have a GP. He never dreamt he'd get cancer at the age of 31.
Family spokeswoman Ruby Grace said it was important to see a doctor if something wasn't right.
''People can be whakamā (shy) because the symptoms can be a bit embarrassing. They don't want to see a doctor and say, 'I've had diarrhoea for a year', they just manage it. Our message is: Get seen, get checked.''
Harris said they had learnt a great deal about cancer and cancer treatments, and wanted to share that knowledge with other families going through similar experiences.
''We want to keep the ball rolling, even if I do pass on. It's not just us, there's lots of people suffering, and I feel sorry for them.''
- additional reporting by Peter de Graaf / Northern Advocate