Real Life

Kiwi stars get behind Wig Wednesday for Child Cancer Foundation

With Jerome Kaino, Bernadine Oliver-Kirby and inspirational cancer survivor Jess Quinn on board, the Child Cancer Foundation’s very first Wig Wednesday is shaping up to be a star-studded affair

Jerome Kaino, Wig Wednesday

The inaugural event, which is taking place on June 22, will see people all around the country donning their craziest wigs for a fundraising drive with a difference.

“As a mum … I dread to think what it would be like to hear the crushing news your child has cancer,” says Bernadine. “Can you imagine? Your entire world is turned upside down. It's a time like this you need all the support you can get.”

“One way Kiwis can show their support for families living the nightmare is by taking part in Wig Wednesday and donating to the Child Cancer Foundation. My kids and their little primary school's on board supporting the day … and I'm working on who else I can recruit!”

For Auckland mum Ana Kireka, whose seven-year-old son Ryu is a child ambassador for the Foundation, Wig Wednesday is just one of many ways the organisation is supporting children with cancer and their families.

Ryu, a soccer-mad Sylvia Park School student with a mischievous ear-to-ear grin, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukaemia (the T-cell type of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, or T-ALL) when he was just a month shy of his fifth birthday.

Ana and her seven-year-old son Ryu, who is a child ambassador for the Foundation. Photo courtesy of the Child Cancer Foundation.
Ana and her seven-year-old son Ryu, who is a child ambassador for the Foundation. Photo courtesy of the Child Cancer Foundation.

Now almost three years into his treatment, Ryu has recently returned to school and is throwing himself into soccer, rugby, and swimming. The swimming classes have been especially important for him, as one of the side effects of his chemo treatment saw the active young boy lose some of the function in his legs.

“[Swimming] is helping him remember how to use his legs properly again, and get a bit of strength in them,” Ana says. She was able to put Ryu in the classes thanks to the Foundation’s Personal Development Grant, which helps provide for children, siblings and their parents during the treatment process to ensure they aren’t missing out on any important opportunities.

The two spend plenty of time at the foundation’s Family Place in Auckland, where Ryu likes to play with the toys, draw in the colouring-in books, go on the computers and borrow books and DVDs – “he feels grown up when he’s doing it,” smiles Ana.

Nowadays, as well as Ryu being a child ambassador for the Foundation, Ana also serves on their parent committee. In the beginning, however, the shock of Ryu’s diagnosis meant it took a while before she sought their help.

“At first I was just in denial about it all. It took me a while, and then when I started to struggle – not only emotionally, but physically and everything – I just said, ‘okay, I need help.’

Ryu was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukaemia when he was four years old.
Ryu was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukaemia when he was four years old.

“That’s when I called and said, ‘Look, I need to see you guys because I’m not coping.’ They were waiting; they didn’t push us into getting help, just gave us the information and said, ‘when you’re ready.’”

Throughout the course of Ryu’s treatment, the Foundation helped financially, providing Ryu with an iPad and giving Ana vouchers for food and petrol. But she says it’s the emotional support that has been the most valuable.

“Knowing I can just call Pelea [their family support coordinator], just to talk or to meet up and have a yarn – just knowing that there’s somebody who knows what you’re going through, is really good,” Ana says.

“She’s been there since – for us – day one.”

Cancer survivor Jess Quinn is also coming on board for Wig Wednesday.
Cancer survivor Jess Quinn is also coming on board for Wig Wednesday.

With Wig Wednesday coming up, Ana and Ryu are excited to pick out his very own wacky hairdo (Ana says she’s hoping she can convince him to don a mullet). His school is also getting behind the effort – and the foundation is hoping to see a big turnout from the rest of the country as well.

“I have worked with Child Cancer Foundation for a number of years now, and I know how much of a difference their support can make during a really tough time. Fundraising is such a huge part of what keeps this amazing organisation going,” says rugby star and Foundation ambassador Jerome Kaino.

“I just loved the idea of Wig Wednesday and knew I had to get involved! I had a bit of help from some of the Child Cancer Foundation kids with choosing my wig, and think it’s a solid look.”

Check out Jerome’s message for Wig Wednesday in the video player below. Find out more about how you can take part in Wig Wednesday here.

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