2018 was meant to be Connor Pokoati’s year.
The 26-year-old was finishing up his masters degree, planning a move to Singapore for an internship and had just started the rugby season for New Brighton’s division one team.
Then, he was diagnosed with stage four gastro-oesophageal cancer.
The cancer of the stomach and esophagus had spread to his pancreas and liver.
He was told without treatment, he would only live three to four months. It was after a couple of months of symptoms including shortness of breath, nausea, stomach pains and insomnia, that he was diagnosed.
“It was shocking and tough to hear. I had done what you are always are told not to do and Googled my symptoms. All my symptoms point to stomach cancer, but I just had that mindset of: ‘Oh that won’t happen to me.
“We sat down in a meeting with four or five doctors and I knew something wasn’t right. I could tell from their body language. But I wasn’t expecting cancer,” he said.
After a week of testing, Mr Pokoati was finally diagnosed with stage four gastro-oesophageal cancer.
“I could tell even the doctors were shocked by what they had found. Usually the demographic for this type of cancer is 65 years and older” he said.
It was on the same day in June that Mr Pokoati found out he had passed his Masters
of Arts in European Union Studies at Canterbury University.
Within a week, he was about to move to Singapore and begin an internship with the Asia-Europe Foundation.
“Mum and Dad were at the meeting when I found out, so they helped me by telling the rest of the family. The hardest people to tell were my close mates. Some of my friends flew down from Auckland and I sat them all down and told them. It was tough.”
His younger sister Tisean Pokoati moved back to Christchurch from Sydney to look after her older brother.
Mr Pokoati recently completed his final round of chemo and received positive news yesterday that his cancer has reduced.
He will now have two months off treatment and is looking forward to enjoying the summer, visiting family in the North Island and getting back into a routine.
To keep himself busy and family and friends up to date, Mr Pokoati began writing a blog, Cancer battler for life.
“It’s been refreshing having something constructive to do,” he said.
He talks about his struggles through 12 rounds of chemo, a treatment called Folfox, which is seen to only have a 20 to 30 per cent chance of working.
He described the side-effects of treatment as “soul-destroying” and dropped about 20kg in six weeks.
“I didn’t lose my hair which was good. At some stage I did look like a skeleton, pale and skinny in the face for the first time in my life. A lot of fatigue . . . I wouldn’t wish those side-effects on my worst enemy. I would have a 10-hour sleep and wake up still exhausted.”
The former Shirley Boys’ High School student was head boy in 2010.
Since his diagnosis, Mr Pokoati has gone back to the school to help out as a mentor and teacher aide.
“I wasn’t planning on it, but I ended up making a speech in front of the whole school. Eight years before I had been making the end of year head boy speech in assembly. That was hard to think about.”
After making the speech, he got the idea of making the blog, which he describes as a “brutal, raw and honest account” of how he and his family and friends have dealt with his situation.
“I realised there might be an audience for my story . . . a story that could help people in similar situations, or for people who are dealing with other types of issues. But it’s not just for those who are dealing with issues, but for their friends, their families who also have to cope with difficult situations.”
•Read more – Connor is sharing his journey through his blog.