First-time mother with cancer gives birth at 35 weeks

By Tamati Tiananga

Life has been a roller-coaster ride for 19-year-old Josie Hepi-Hika of Ngāruawahia.

On April 6 she was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma, a rare but highly aggressive form of  cancer. The following day she was induced and gave birth to her daughter.

It was a life-saving move for both mother and child.   

“Being a first-time mum you expect to come home with your baby and be able to care for her and do things like breastfeeding. But all of that got taken away from me. It was really hard,” says Hepi-Hika.

She suspected something wasn't right for weeks but accepted her doctor’s reason that the cause of her tiredness was due to her pregnancy. 

Her mother Kaama Elliot was also worried.

"We were taking her to professionals. We were taking her to the doctors. But no one had answers," she says. 

Josie was eventually diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma when she was in her third trimester.

"The doctor looked at me and the first thing he said was “Josie doesn’t have a week to wait.”’

She was given two choices, to start chemotherapy immediately or give birth 5 weeks early before undergoing treatment, to prevent possible harm to the baby.  

Luna-Demiia Teriina Renee Winikerei was born 24 hours after her mother received the devastating news. Josie’s partner Calais Winikerei was by her side but there was barely time to bond with her baby. Chemotherapy started straight away. 

"One thing I’ve struggled with through this journey so far is everything is different and not considered to be normal. But when I have my baby it feels right.”

 Give support to Josie

Kaama Elliot’s whānau in Whanganui will hold a fundraiser for Josephine next weekend in Whanganui.

A Minute for Josie is being organised by Lee-Arna Nepia who wanted to do something meaningful for the whānau.

"Given Josie’s circumstances and the uncertainty surrounding it, we just want to assist with whatever it is they might need.”

The event will stage a fitness challenge for all ages including Josie’s koroua who are both over 60 years old.

The fundraiser will be held on Saturday, June 5 at Nefarious Fitness & Performance in Whanganui.