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Celebrity News

Maria Tutaia and Erin Simpson's fight against cancer

Erin Simpson and Maria Tutaia join the fight against cancer as ambassadors of CanTeen.

By Linda Shackelford
When Erin Simpson was dealt a major personal blow no young woman should have to face, the bubbly children's TV presenter garnered her unbreakable spirit to turn a devastating situation into a positive one.
Erin was filming Sticky TV several years ago when her now ex-boyfriend Mat was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease – a type of lymphoma. Together for nearly 10 years, during which time Mat was dealing with cancer, they supported each other through the darkest of moments.
"We had to deal with it," explains Erin. "It's a bit like doing an educational course – you get the timetable and know 'this is my life now'. It's the same with cancer – and for most people, as long as you go to all the appointments and treatments, you can get through."
Now in her new role as ambassador for CanTeen, Erin will help others going through similar experiences as she follows in the capable footsteps of long-time ambassador, Silver Fern golden girl Maria Tutaia.
Wonder Woman Erin cared for then-boyfriend Mat during his struggle with cancer.
Although Mat and Erin have since separated and Mat is in remission, they have both benefited from CanTeen, the organisation supporting young people and their families coping with cancer.
"I became Mat's nurse – I gave him an injection every day. There were horrible moments and happy times, but we have always remained very close," says Erin, who up until recently did not feel ready to share her deeply personal experience publicly.
"I have had a chip on my shoulder to do with cancer for many years, but this year I decided to start dealing with it," explains Erin. "Instead of hating cancer I have decided to beat it. I'll help others fight it too. It doesn't just affect the people going through it – it affects everyone."
And she knows this better than anyone. Many of her family members have suffered from cancer, or are going through treatment at the moment.
Erin has lost an aunty to melanoma, and two other aunties and her 15-year-old cousin have since been diagnosed with cancer.
When Erin relocated to Auckland from Christchurch earlier this year, she signed up to be an ambassador for CanTeen, joining Dan Carter, Scott Dixon, Paige Hareb, Lisa Tamati, Jossi Wells and Maria.
Maria with brave CanTeen member Noah Lockett-Turton.
Maria, who recently recovered from the broken ankle she sustained warming up for the finals of the Commonwealth Games in Scotland in August, has also seen close family members suffer.
"Some have died and others have been bereaved by cancer," the Silver Fern tells. "It's not just the patient that suffers – it goes beyond that to family and friends. CanTeen provides support and resources for the whole tribe. It's something I hold really dear to my heart."
Maria's befriended many CanTeen members during her six years supporting the organisation. Sadly, she's seen some pass away.
Waiariki Rakena, the face of CanTeen's TV campaigns, which Maria fronted between 2009 and 2012, lost her battle with lymphoma two years ago.
"I visited her in hospital as much as I could, but when she passed away, it took its toll on me. The bonds I make with families are ones I will cherish for my lifetime," explains Maria.
"I want to help them as much as I can. These teenagers inspire me, and also make me feel a bit inadequate in terms of what they are coping with! I learn from them and from their life experiences."
Erin has been inspired by Maria's fun-loving nature and her close relationships with CanTeen members.
Maria and Erin giggle as the 1.87m netballer leans over to wrap one of the charity's recognisable bandanas she designed – an elephant pattern – around Erin's head. Maria's turned her talents to many different activities to raise funds for CanTeen, she even accepted a kiss from a complete stranger in front of an audience at a recent charity event.
"This guy offered $200 to kiss me," she laughs. "He had his mouth wide open so I quickly pecked him on the bottom lip! I got my money's worth, though, so that was good! I've put myself out there but it's always just good fun."
Erin, who this year fronted the TV series Operation Hero and has other projects on the horizon, first met Maria when she appeared on The Erin Simpson Show as a guest.
"Maria is an inspiration," smiles Erin, a keen artist who can't wait to design her first CanTeen bandana. "She brings a smile to everyone's face, whether they have cancer or not."
Maria says her charity involvement keeps her incredibly grounded attitude in check.
"It really puts things into perspective," she says. "Here I am complaining about my foot, yet these kids live their lives like nothing is wrong. I have driven home in tears after seeing some of them. They are so humble and appreciative of life and really make the most of it.
"We can all learn a lesson from these young people. We might complain about the smallest things, yet they are suffering from a condition that is life-threatening and are still full of life and manage to smile."

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