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.
A week after the news was relayed to Mousie and Robert they were advised that Mousie’s only treatment option was chemotherapy. When Mousie asked the specialist if the cancer was spreading, he replied not that he could see, and this was why he wanted to start treatment immediately.
A week later the first of many trips to the oncology ward took place.
After Mousie’s 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 went back 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. Another operation took place the following month to remove the tumour and results showed there was no cancer. Relief for all. Faith and prayer vital, says Mama Mousie
The average person would think Mousie’s trauma had already been more than enough for one person to endure. But more trauma awaited them. Their daughter was diagnosed with a blood cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and has also been undergoing treatment in Auckland. It’s been an incredibly rough and tough couple of years for these two incredibly strong women and their family.
Talking about cancer, coping with the unknown, living with uncertainty, learning as much as possible, sharing experiences, talking about dying and about not recovering are all things Mousie has had to come to terms with.
“It is important to balance hope with reality,” she says. 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.”
And in spite of everything, she can’t speak highly enough of the hospital staff she has come 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.
A fortnight ago I was very privileged to be invited to a ladies’ luncheon at Bamboo Jacks (two token blokes were also in attendance), in honour of this incredible woman we call Mousie.
It was the brightest occasion I have been to for a very 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.
It was also a very “bright” idea to host such a luncheon and for that we thank Rosa Tauia and Jack Cooper.
Never short for words – Jack 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.”
And Cooper was absolutely on the button. Mousie epitomises 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 faith has kept her going through her journey.
“I keep believing that I will get to the end of the tunnel – all will be good.
“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 are lucky enough to be a Facebook friend of Mousie’s you are fortunate. She has kept us informed about her situation every step of the way. She has grasped all that is good and positive about social media. She has made us feel a part of her journey. How she has coped with so many visitors, so many meals out, so many cakes and flowers, I do not know. But she does. That smile is a constant in all her photos, and her photos alone, without any words tell the story.
Mousie’s journey with cancer is continuing. She and Robert return to Auckland next week for more tests and reviews. After a visit back to Samoa they hope to return to their home in Nikao in late April. Hopefully, they will be back in time to celebrate their 41st wedding on April 22. Mousie spent their 40th anniversary and days either side of it in hospital.
During the lunch and since then, Mousie has paid tribute to Rosa and Jack.
“I will be forever grateful and thankful to Jack and Rosa for a lovely gesture of hosting a luncheon on my behalf. This was such a surprise; I was lost for words with their generosity and the abundance of love and laughter from such beautiful ladies and friends.
“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 are - and someone whom we love dearly.
Mousie’s Facebook profile lists her favourite quote as, “Sky is the limit.” How very apt.
- Jaewynn McKay