For the past six years, wellbeing has played a significant part of Gerardine Clifford-Lidstone’s life.
Of Samoan descent, Gerardine has worked extensively with New Zealand’s Pacific communities, and is currently the Ministry of Health’s Director of Pacific Health.
Speaking at the annual Ministry for Pacific Peoples (MPP) All Staff Fono last week, Gerardine has shared her personal story of surviving cancer, and how wellbeing has become an integral part of her life and a priority for her.
Six years ago, the successful career woman, mother and wife realised her own mortality when she was diagnosed with metastatic inflammatory breast cancer, an aggressive form of breast cancer, with a low survival rate.
“The medical professionals said I they would be very surprised if I made it to Christmas that year – it devastated my family,” she says.
However, on a positive note, being told you are going to die can bring amazing clarity about what you need to do next and not one to take things lying down, Gerardine prepared to fight her diagnosis, fuelled by her newfound clarity and focus on surviving for her family.
“I resigned from my job back then and said goodbye to the old Gerardine – who had different ambitions, ideals and career pathway – I did like myself, but I had to say goodbye to that Gerardine.
“I knew if I did not make a fundamental shift, I wouldn’t give myself a real chance to survive.”
Heading into chemotherapy, Gerardine worked hard on preparing herself physically, mentally and spiritually.
Chemotherapy strips you right back to basically an empty shell, and she knew it would take all her strength and positivity to rebuild.
“It was challenging to stay positive when I went in for treatment, as the on-paper the prognosis was not good and my perception of medical staff was they were all doom and gloom.
“I had to make some hard choices at this time.
“My mother is a strong supporter of natural remedies and less trusting of western medical intervention, but I wasn’t prepared take that risk– it was difficult to not be on the same page but it was a decision I had to make for my wellbeing and for my family,” she adds.
As she worked on rebuilding her body and strength, she also took a step back from anyone who drained her energy or did not replenish her cup.
“I worked hard to be my authentic self and cared less about what people thought.
“I used my voice more – by bottling things up, I felt somehow I had introduced this cancer to my body, so I needed to release this.
“I guess this just how I rationalised the ‘why me?’
“And I realised my sole purpose was to raise my kids, be a great mum and to live more in the moment.
“To get to this point, I had to be really honest with myself about what made me happy, what I enjoyed, and what I didn’t enjoy.”
Again, on-paper Gerardine is classified as terminal but she feels far from that.
She still undergoes treatment every three weeks, but as she says, she is alive and profoundly grateful for that.
Every day, she attempts to live by the things she learnt during those traumatic days of self-assessment.
“It’s a cliché…when people say, ‘live everyday as if it’s your last’ but you really don’t know when you are going to go, so make the most of every day.
“Speak your truth clearly – have courage to speak up; be kind and treat others with respect; and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Wellbeing is essential and she emphasised this to the MPP staff at the fono.
She is hugely supportive of Laulu’s words when he says to staff, “if you can’t look after yourself, you can’t look after your community”.
Other guest speakers at the fono included Life Coach and Founder of Brain, Body Movement (BMM) Programme Dave Letele, Founder of Niu Movement Troy Tararo-Ruhe and Comedian Li’i Alamoana.
They focused on wellbeing, using your talents and reaching your potential, and to ensure whatever you are doing today, you are doing it to the best of your ability.
The fono has left the MPP staff refreshed, re-focused and prepared for 2021.