Receiving kisses from your children is a loving gesture that mothers adore. So when the three young daughters of breast cancer battler Karin Horen saw their mother’s shaved head after chemotherapy treatment, their emotional response brought tears to Karin’s eyes.
To comfort her, Huia (6), Mokoia (3) and Pania (22 months), whose father is Spartacus actor Manu Bennett, took turns kissing their mother’s hairless scalp to assure her everything was going to be okay.
“It was a very special moment,” Karin reveals. “The disease has brought us closer together and taught my children about love and compassion.”
Rather than letting her illness defeat her, Karin is using her inspirational journey to help others. She founded an annual fundraising event for the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation called Paddle for Hope, where teams compete in stand-up paddling races on the water.
More FM radio announcers Joe Cotton, Jen Bainbridge, Nicki Sunderland and Dan Bernstone, all of whom have personal experience of the devastating effects of breast cancer, met Karin at a More FM fundraising event held this year, and wanted to help spread her positive message.
“Instead of focusing on being sick, Karin’s living her life and thinking about ways to help other women in the same situation. That’s inspirational,” says Joe, who has two best friends fighting the illness, including breast cancer ambassador Helena McAlpine.
Jen (34), who has a 14-year-old daughter Lily, lost her own mother to breast cancer when she was 17, and her grandmother was also diagnosed with the disease.
“As a mother to a teenage daughter, I’m extremely aware of how important it is to look after myself,” says Jen.
Her mother left a lump in her breast unchecked, which she eventually died from. “I’m learning from her mistakes and leading a healthy life.”
Despite the emotional cause behind the event, the More FM crew plan to have lots of fun on the water to raise money.
“I struggle to stay upright on the land,” Joe laughs. “My ego might be bruised, but it’s for a good cause.”
As the team prepare for the challenge, Karin describes the paddleboarding event as a great metaphor for women and men affected by breast cancer.
“Paddleboarding against the wind is an emotional, mental and physical struggle. I know that I can do it and just need to keep going.”
Karin was born and raised in Israel, and moved to New Zealand four years ago with her Kiwi partner Manu. The couple met in Sydney in 2005, when Karin moved to Australia to attend university, and relocated to Auckland after Manu scored a role in Spartacus.
The brave 40-year-old was diagnosed and beat cancer at 26. But sadly it returned this year and the loving mother has been battling the illness since.
“I don’t have any negative thoughts about the situation. I don’t ask myself, ‘Why me?’ I only ask, ‘Why now?’ because it’s always the wrong time,” Karin explains.
“When I was told the news, I looked at my girls and cried. Everything I do now is for my children and my loved ones.”
The diagnosis has also been hard for Manu, who has been overseas for most of the year, due to acting work. Karin understands why he’s away at such a delicate time, because it’s the “bread and butter” for the family, but they regularly keep in contact via Skype.
“Manu lost his mother and a brother in separate car accidents. When I told him the news, I saw the fear in his eyes of losing the mother of his children. We just don’t know what’s going to happen and how it’s going to end,” she admits. “The girls were just in Vancouver with their dad, where he’s filming the TV2 show Arrow, so I could rest after having a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. It’s great they can spend time with their dad, too.”
Karin has a tattoo on her shoulder of the Superman logo, which she got to honour her mother, who died of a heart attack. But many of Karin’s loved ones say the symbol is an appropriate representation of her struggle.
“I don’t see myself as a superwoman, but others have described me as one. Maybe because I came to New Zealand, had three babies, had breast cancer twice, and am still going.”
A vital message Karin and the More FM team are looking to send is that early detection is key.
“Being vigilant is so important,” says Joe. “If we can save just one life by doing this, then that’s our job done.”
Adds Karin: “We’ve got to listen to our bodies and take care of ourselves.”
Paddle for Hope will take place at Auckland Viaduct on November 2, 2013. Visit paddleforhope.co.nz
Photos: Caren Davis • Make-up: Kate Smith • studio photos: Alex Zozulya