Cancer and emotions from a Pasifika world view

As Pasifika people, how do we deal with the emotions a cancer diagnosis might bring? Often we think about our families’ and our communities’ reactions to our news, and what it means for them. It is important to take this time to think about how we feel and what can help us at this time. This section briefly explores some of the ways we might deal with emotions from a Pasifika world view.


“Ole ala ole pule o le tautua ‒ the pathway to leadership is through service”

Serving is about giving of yourself and not expecting anything in return. Giving and serving is being humble and showing kindness. This concept in turn supports the importance of role-modelling positive parenting and acts of kindness and generosity. Serving is a value we hold and share with the next generations. When we have cancer we might find people want to give to us, and we are in a position of receiving. This can feel strange when we are used to giving.


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Giving and receiving

Pasifika cultures have a collective thought of giving. To give is to help others in times of need or to help them to be blessed in their work. ‘To give is to receive.’ Giving is an act of kindness and love. It demonstrates that families are part of a collective or bigger community/family. It is a process that is reciprocated when something wonderful or something sad happens in a family. When someone in our community has cancer, we all feel the need to help that person and their family to carry the burden.

Faith, culture and traditions

Pasifika people have a strong sense of faith. This means we believe in a higher power, namely God, who has a place called heaven for us to ascend to after this life. Believing in what cannot be seen is a reality for many Pasifika people. It is what we base our faith on. Culture and traditions help to cement our faith to keep our beliefs alive, and these are passed down within our Pasifika Islands. It is more difficult to maintain these beliefs and traditions in the Western world, but they may become more important to us when we hear we have cancer.

Dealing with emotions

Visiting families and being present in times of need can be very comforting for a person with cancer and their family. Taking food and gifts and offering money can be part of this visiting process. Shared words of comfort and encouragement are extended to the family so that they know they are not alone. Pasifika families are a collective at this time, becoming part of the extended community of Pasifika family. This is often taken forward to prayer and uplifted to God in the hope and expectation that there could be healing and relief in the process.


Finding hope and support

Confiding in your minister is something common and special at these times. Ministers play a big part in our lives and communities and are highly regarded in our culture. Faith for Pasifika people keeps us connected and grounded; it can give us hope. Times of stress, or receiving devastating news like a cancer diagnosis, can leave us feeling many things: anxious, shocked, scared, angry, and so forth. You may also react in a physical way, such as through the fight response to argue. Or you might want to run away and not face it, freeze up, and keep quiet, like you feel when you are shocked.

No matter how you look at it, when anyone is diagnosed with cancer it raises many emotions. Many Pasifika people like to have family around; we process with loved ones and lean on our spiritual beliefs to help us get through. You may contact your church minister for wisdom and guidance and a religious process may be undertaken with a Pasifika flavour.

Pasifika families are like all families that receive devastating news. However your family processes this news, it is important that they show their understanding of cancer in a way that is comfortable for you. For example:

• you might not want to talk to someone straight away

• you might be in shock and feel angry and upset

• you could take time for yourself before you talk to others. Coping with the reactions of others can be a big thing. You may want to ask someone else in your family to be your spokesperson

• you might like to find ways that help ground you in times of high emotion, such as:

  • taking a walk in nature and breathing fresh air
  • doing relaxation exercises
  • using positive self-talk
  • listening to motivational talks that uplift you
  • finding a structure in your day that works for you and builds in some exercise.

You are dealing with feelings of loss and grief and these are big emotions to deal with. These are your emotions and this is your journey. Sometimes talking things through with family, a therapist, or a counsellor can help.

Read Arthur and Tia Tia's story here.

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