5 Jul 2021

Labour MP Kiritapu Allan returns to Parliament: 'I'm stoked to be back'

10:02 am on 5 July 2021

Labour's Conservation Minister has returned to work at Parliament, three months after a cervical cancer diagnosis.

Allan says she is pleased to be back.

"I think every other person that has had the privilege of being in one of those 120 seats over there, coming to work every single day to do our little bit, trying to make a change for our country is what we put our boots on in the morning to do."

"I want to acknowledge in particular the overwhelming amount of support that I've received in my time off. I was brought to tears frequently by the love, care and compassion from people of all walks of life - that was something I hadn't expected.

"Too, I want to acknowledge just how cancer and terminal illness, it impacts every single one of us ... we all know somebody that has been impacted by these taumaha illnesses that sit within our lives. So that has meant for me personally it really was a wake-up call, a real reordering of priorities."

Allan revealed in April she had been diagnosed with stage-three cervical cancer and would be stepping down from her roles to deal with it.

She got the news the same day she was dealing with three large earthquakes off the coast of New Zealand, as the Emergency Management Minister.

Allan says she has a real fervent fire in her belly to get back into the mahi.

"We have this incredible opportunity right now, for me in the conservation space particularly. I'm a rural kid, come from rural Aotearoa, we're doing a lot of work in terms of doing getting our people into mahi ... we have a biodiversity strategy that needs a lot of work to give effect to implement it. I'm doing a lot of work with David Parker with respect to the RMA reforms making sure that our people come along with and that we come up with policies that help us all transition."

"I'm stoked to be back."

She said she's feeling good but the treatment period was a bit rough.

"It was supposed to be six weeks, for a range of reasons it extended to nine... I was very very fortunate and I put that down actually to all the prayers I received across the country, all the good thoughts."

Allan said she will have check-ups every six months.

"The body is feeling a lot better today than it did prior to taking leave and that's something that I've really welcomed. I didn't know I was living with that much pain until it was gone."

She said a lot of people put their lives on hold to support her.

"You meet a lot of people and you become really intimately connected with other patients as they're going through their journeys and I just felt so well supported by my whānau, by my friends."

Allan had this advice: "First is, and this is a message to myself and to all of us. If something doesn't feel right, please go and take the time out even if it feels a little selfish to cut away ... get the checks that you need. In my case it was getting a smear test and that was something that I was afraid to do."

"At a more intimate level I guess I was hoping that by sharing my story that would result in others taking steps to get their health tested."

She said a lot of people had got in touch to say they had also got tested.

"When those results ... came back with cancer results it means I've been a friend via the internet, for those that are going through that process. But it's a really scary journey, at all stages. I think bringing the awareness to the complexities that comes [with it], it's mental, its' spiritual, and ... in my case I really relied on my whānau to really support me through that."

Allan thanked colleague Ayesha Verrall for announcements made in cervical health in the past Budget, and thanked the medical professionals who helped her in her return.

"A diagnosis like this, you're confronted by your mortality... Any of us may be hit by a bus tomorrow, but we don't spend a lot of time thinking about what the impact of that might be, on our friends, on our family."

"Particularly for me I've always lived a 'go hard or go home' type ethos in that approach ... to work. This has been an enforced time to sit in quiet."

"I think I've come back with a renewed sense of what it is that I want to do whilst I'm here and whilst I have the privilege of being here, however long that may be."

She said it was incredibly important to her to go back home and "wash these feet in the waters".

"I knew that that was something that my spirit, my wairua, needed... I really decided that I've probably taken my health for granted ... that's significantly changed for me now."

She said she felt a significant amount was being done to improve the approach to health, particularly women's health.

She said in the past she had been prescribed the wrong medication, and had spent time with people asking them to better advocate for themselves.

"It can feel selfish to prioritise yourself, but your family deserve ya, your community deserves you, and you're worth it."

Allan said she found the treatment a very hard treatment and looking back if there was something she could have done to avoid it she would.

She said Rongoā Māori had also played an important role in her upbringing and been helpful for her, and she had received a wide variety of kaimoana during her recovery which was helpful in getting her body feeling healthier.

She said she talked to her daughter and they had a lot of conversations that required them to be very open and honest about what could happen.

"We hoped to provide her a relatively positive experience going through. She sat with me on the hospital bed, she was there with me when I got my diagnosis ... it was quite funny she put her hand on my arms and she said 'kei te pai mum mum, kei te pai, kei ko nei ahau'. So she knew that something was wrong and she could tell that not everything was okay.

"She was an absolute light and when I came to think about the things that were really important to me, right at the top of that list was seeing her get to her 21st, performing her first proper kapa haka competitions - not these kōhanga reo ones, I mean up on the big stage - those were the things that were really important to me and that was the thing that caused the most fear for me was not being around ... for her."