In celebration of ‘Epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki ‘Āirani – Cook Islands Language Week, Cook Islands cancer nurse coordinator Martha Kainuku talks about the importance of her culture and her drive to impact the Counties Manukau community positively.
Martha always thought she would be a police officer, but her experience with the care of her mother was the catalyst for a different career.
“My mother was a diagnosed asthmatic, and after a major stroke, was found to have undiagnosed rheumatic heart disease too far gone for surgery. I was told she might have been misdiagnosed with asthma, and if she had been diagnosed earlier, she could have been offered prosthetic valves and her life saved.
“I went on to research rheumatic heart disease and learned about rheumatic fever and streptococcal. At this moment, I felt a desire to become a nurse to educate my family, friends, and ultimately patients about preventable diseases,” Martha says.
Martha works as part of a multi-disciplinary team supporting patients from referral to treatment and after and has a passion for helping Pacific Island and Maaori people to understand cancer, their diagnosis, and the importance of seeking treatment.
“I play a role in ensuring care is patient-centred and advocated for people. I place immense importance on meeting people where they are, explaining things in a way they will understand, and seeing a person as more than just the individual, but as an extension of their family and culture,” she says.
Martha grew up in South Auckland and always knew she wanted to serve the people of this community.
“You see first-hand the inequalities Pacific and Maaori live with, and it is my passion to be a part of the solution and improve outcomes for these people.”
After leaving school young, Martha took the leap and enrolled in a bachelor of nursing in 2010.
“I was the first of my siblings to get a bachelor’s degree. I was a single mum with kids still too young to understand the sacrifices I had to make, and it was a challenge to ensure my studies didn’t overtake my family commitments.
“Growing up, I didn’t get many opportunities to learn about career options or things I could study, and I sometimes think a little extra support or knowledge could have led me to nursing sooner. When I graduated in 2014 as a registered nurse, my kids experienced my achievement with me, and I think it instilled a desire in them to set out and accomplish their own success,” she says.
A proud Cook Islander, Martha credits her family for her strength and resilience.
“My family migrated from Aituataki Cook Islands in the early ’70s. My mother was one of 14 children who all sought ‘the dream.’ My grandparents raised me. My grandmother is from Oire-Nikaupara, and my grandfather is from Oire-Arutanga, and I credit them for teaching me the importance of my culture, faith, and hard work,” she says.
“I think pacific people are raised with resilience which has helped me overcome pressure, sadness, and stress. Family is vital, and history taught through generations that have been passed down from my grandparents to me has defined who I am.
“My grandparents and mother passed away before they could see what I have achieved, but I know they would be proud.”