Mousie, wife of Turama Pacific Travel Group managing director Robert Skews returned to Rarotonga two weeks ago having spent precious time with her dear Mother and family in Samoa. Mousie had no shortage of “surrogate children”, and many saw her as their “other mum”. Her friend, work mate and surrogate son Peter French said yesterday, “You will be truly missed but never forgotten. You are at peace now. It was your strength and will to live that kept you going, fighting to the end’. Said Ronnie Si’ulepa: “There are not many people that I cry for. Yesterday I just couldn’t hold myself back. Will miss my other mum who always picked me up when I was down in the dumps! Her kind words and gentle approach to me any issues and her infectious smile always made it better for me. Tofa la’u uo ma faafetai.” The following is a tribute Jaewynn McKay penned after a special “ladies lunch”, held in Mousie’s honour in February this year.
“This incredible woman will be missed so very much by so very many,” McKay said.
This time two years ago, “Mama Mousie” began the fight for her life.
She arrived at Middlemore Hospital on February 5, 2016, accompanied by her highly supportive husband Robert.
However, she had no idea what a tumultuous, testing time lay ahead of her.
She arrived in Auckland with few symptoms or signs of what was wrong with her health, apart from the fact that she had a sore leg.
A week later she heard the words no-one wants to hear. She was told she had cancer. That one six letter word carries a huge emotional load. At that time that word cancer did not register with Mousie: “It is still a shock to me and my family.”
Mousie was diagnosed with stage four osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma is a type of cancer that produces immature bone. It is the most common type of cancer that arises in bones, and it is usually found at the end of long bones, often around the knee.
Most people diagnosed with osteosarcoma are under the age of 25, and it is thought to occur more often in males than females. The odds of Mousie getting this type of cancer must have been pretty low.
Mousie and Robert were advised that Mousie’s only treatment option was chemotherapy. When Mousie asked the specialist if the cancer was spreading, he replied “not that I can see,” which was why he wanted to start treatment immediately.
A week later Mousie took the first of many trips to the oncology ward.
After her third cycle of treatment she met again with the original specialist who had made the cancer diagnosis. This time he had further bad news. Mousie’s leg had not responded well to the chemo and he presented Mousie with two options. They could try and save the leg with no guarantee that the cancer would not return, or they could amputate.
“I asked him if this was happening to one of his family members, what would he do? He said he would take the option to amputate.”
“At the time all I wanted was to get rid of the disease and get better. I cried, ‘I’m losing my leg’, but it’s the best option for me.”
In May 2016, Mousie had her leg amputated. Subsequent tests confirmed that the chemo had killed off 93 per cent of the bone cancer, but sadly, two cancer nodules had travelled to her right lung and one to her left lung.
In June 2016 Mousie had an operation on her right lung. Tests on nodules in her left lung showed no signs of cancer, so no operation was needed.
In September of that year after her chemo treatment was completed Mousie was released to go home and return for a check-up in January 2017. She returned to Samoa to see her Mum, other family and friends for six weeks before returning to Rarotonga, her home since 1990.
Almost a year to the day from Mousie’s initial diagnosis a CT scan and x-ray confirmed a tumour had grown inside her right lung, which had been operated on eight months earlier. She had another operation the following month to remove the tumour and results showed there was no cancer. Relief for all.
Mousie’s trauma had already been more than enough for one person to endure. But more trauma awaited. Robert and Mousie’s daughter was diagnosed with a blood cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and also underwent treatment in Auckland. It was an incredibly rough and tough couple of years for these two incredibly strong women and their family.
Mousie had to come to terms with talking about cancer, coping with the unknown, living with uncertainty, sharing experiences, talking about dying and about the possibly of not recovering.
“It is important to balance hope with reality,” she said. “There may come a time when the reality is that I am not going to recover. Death and dying are not talked of openly in our culture and it may be difficult to face the knowledge that I am going to die.”
Always the encourager, Mousie couldn’t speak highly enough of the hospital staff she came in contact with.
“They are so caring and make sure that you are comfortable. I told my husband that it takes very special people to do this job: their passion and caring for everyone is amazing. They do a marvellous job.”
Mousie’s use of the words “caring and special” could equally be used to describe herself.
Elisapeta and Robert Skews and their family made Rarotonga their home the day they arrived here on May 23, 1990. In the 28 years since, all but one person here has referred to Elisapeta as “Mousie” or “Mama Mousie”.
The one exception was the late Paddy Walker. Paddy thought the name, given as a nickname to 10-month-old Elisapeta by an aunt who couldn’t believe she was such a skinny baby, and took great joy in calling her Minny Mouse or Mickey Mouse, was a cruel thing to do.
But as with many nicknames, “Mousie” stuck.
The ladies’ luncheon held at Bamboo Jacks in February this year in honour of this incredible woman was the brightest occasion I have been to for a long time. Bright in the colours the women wore, bright ei katu and just bright, intelligent women, all bright enough to have Mousie as a dear friend.
Restaurant owner Jack Cooper described the event as, “A special ladies’ lunch for a special lady at Bamboo Jacks, recognising a woman who has had such great involvement within the community.”
He was absolutely on the button. Mousie epitomised strength, grace, beauty, empathy, compassion, tolerance, a love of community including her social media community, a very demonstrable sense of service and duty to family and community and a deep, deep trust in God.
Her incredibly strong and determined faith kept her going through her journey.
“I keep believing that I will get to the end of the tunnel – all will be good,” she said.
“Faith has the power to lift the spirits in a weary, cancer-ridden body. Faith transcends the mind to forget your pains and invigorates the body, even if it’s for a brief moment.
“In a country where cancer is literally a death messenger, my faith comforts me, it is my constant companion.
“Prayer is very powerful. My spiritual guidance has helped me to cope, together with my medical treatment.”
If you were lucky enough to be a Facebook friend of Mousie’s you are fortunate. She kept us informed about her situation every step of the way. She grasped all that is good and positive about social media. She made us feel a part of her journey. How she coped with so many visitors, so many meals out, so many cakes and flowers, I do not know. But she did, and with a constant smile.
At the end of that unforgettable luncheon earlier this year, Mousie thanked Jack Cooper for hosting the luncheon and thanks all those who had attended.
“Thank you again dear friends for all your prayers, love and support. To God we return all the glory for his merciful love and faithfulness.”
And thank you, Mousie, for being the special woman you were - and someone whom we loved dearly.
- Jaewynn McKay