What are emotions?

Emotions are how you ‘feel on the inside’. They can have a physical effect on your body, affecting your spiritual wellbeing and your relationships with family/whānau and friends.

Cancer often involves a sense of loss:


  • the loss of good health
  • a change in appearance
  • changes in your lifestyle
  • a reduction in income
  • having to rely on others
  • changes in your relationships
  • and a shift in how you see yourself.


This can be a time of grief as you adjust to loss and learn to live with the changes a cancer diagnosis can bring to your life. It is common to experience strong emotions at this time that will change often.

If you have a history of anxiety or depression, make sure your cancer treatment team is aware of it so they can make sure you get the support you need.
“Many people say their experience after cancer also includes feelings of hope and connection. For some, it can be a time of reflection and lead to new goals and priorities.”

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Emotions and Māoritanga ‒ He aha te kare ā roto?

Nā Moahuia Goza rāua ko Brian Te Rauroha Emery1

From a Te Ao Māori perspective, there are many whakaaro, names and types of kare ā roto (emotions). Kare ā roto may be referred to as energy in motion. They are related to and connected to everything about you. This includes your mauri, your wairua, your tinana, your whānau, your tupuna, ngā atua, and te taiao (the environment). In this section we kōrero about two ways to think about kare ā roto.

Ngā kare ā roto

One belief is that kare ā roto are personal, dear, and intimate friends who live within you (kare – meaning personal, dear, and intimate friend, and ā roto – meaning within). They are housed in many areas of the tinana, but are usually talked about as being housed in the ngākau (heart), puku (stomach), and ate (liver).

Similar to this view is one that our tinana has a whakapapa back to atua, as do our kare ā roto. There are many different kare ā roto, as there are many atua, and all are designed to help us navigate and respond to this world in which we live. When on a cancer journey, you may experience many kare ā roto. They may include mataku (fear), āmaimai (anxiety and nervousness), whakamā (embarrassment), riri (anger, annoyance, rage), mamae (wounded or hurt), or even a renewed sense of māia (confidence and motivation).

You may also feel the welling up of kare ā roto from deep within you, such that it feels like it wants to be released. This is totally normal, and totally Māori. There are many ways of expressing and releasing those kare ā roto that are bubbling up inside you. They include karanga, haka, singing, composing new waiata, writing stories, writing poems, researching pū rākau (your ancestral stories), mahi toi (art), raranga, going for a swim in the moana, walking in the ngahere, or working out. You will instinctively know the best ways of expressing yourself.

Ngā kare o Rangi

Another kōrero about emotions is connected to our kupu Māori. Each kupu Māori has numerous meanings steeped in mātauranga. Here are some examples of kare ā roto that relate to our rangi (heavens and skies).2

Rangirua – rua – two. The feeling of being in two minds and being confused. This can happen many times during a cancer journey and can sometimes settle with more knowledge.

Pōrangi ‒ Pō – night. “Pōrangi is when the sun is shining and it is daylight, but the moon has moved across the skies and eclipses the sun…. even though you know it is still daytime, it is a time when you cannot see .” This state is usually a temporary experience; the moon will move on and the sunshine will return.3

Haurangi – Hau ‒ winds. “That my mind and emotions are buffeted about like the wind.” This state is a feeling of being pushed around and unsteady on your feet. Lying down on Papatūānuku, smelling the earth, and feeling her heartbeat may help ground you during this time.

Ārangi ‒ a state where you are unsettled and not at ease. Sometimes this can cause you to wake up in the night and not be able to return to sleep. Keeping active, eating good mauri ora kai, and ticking off some ‘to-do list’ jobs may help at this time.

If at any time you feel that these kare ā roto become overwhelming or concerning, please let your family/whānau and your cancer treatment team know as soon as you can.

Lastly, each hapū and iwi will have its own mātauranga about emotions. Seek out your puna mātauranga (knowledge keepers), who may be able to share other kōrero with you. Learning more about the whakapapa of emotions from your own whānau kōrero may itself be rongoā for you.

  1. Nā Moahuia Goza māua ko Brian Emery I tākoha te kōrero nei. Ngā uri o Ngāti Kauwhata, Ngāti Matakore, Ngāti Hauā hoki. 14 Paengawhāwhā, 2020.
  2. Some similarities to the Rangi matrix; however, a more generalised association with kupu Māori.
  3. There are many meanings for the kupu pōrangi. In this context pōrangi means a temporary state ofnot being able to see clearly.

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Emotions from a Pasifika world view

As Pasifika people, how do we deal with the emotions a cancer diagnosis might bring? Often we think about our families’ and our communities’ reactions to our news, and what it means for them. It is important to take this time to think about how we feel and what can help us at this time. This section briefly explores some of the ways we might deal with emotions from a Pasifika world view.

“Ole ala ole pule o le tautua ‒ the pathway to leadership is through service”

Serving is about giving of yourself and not expecting anything in return. Giving and serving is being humble and showing kindness. This concept in turn supports the importance of role-modelling positive parenting and acts of kindness and generosity. Serving is a value we hold and share with the next generations. When we have cancer we might find people want to give to us, and we are in a position of receiving. This can feel strange when we are used to giving.

Giving and receiving

Pasifika cultures have a collective thought of giving. To give is to help others in times of need or to help them to be blessed in their work. ‘To give is to receive.’ Giving is an act of kindness and love. It demonstrates that families are part of a collective or bigger community/family. It is a process that is reciprocated when something wonderful or something sad happens in a family. When someone in our community has cancer, we all feel the need to help that person and their family to carry the burden.

Faith, culture and traditions

Pasifika people have a strong sense of faith. This means we believe in a higher power, namely God, who has a place called heaven for us to ascend to after this life. Believing in what cannot be seen is a reality for many Pasifika people. It is what we base our faith on. Culture and traditions help to cement our faith to keep our beliefs alive, and these are passed down within our Pasifika Islands. It is more difficult to maintain these beliefs and traditions in the Western world, but they may become more important to us when we hear we have cancer.

Dealing with emotions

Visiting families and being present in times of need can be very comforting for a person with cancer and their family. Taking food and gifts and offering money can be part of this visiting process. Shared words of comfort and encouragement are extended to the family so that they know they are not alone. Pasifika families are a collective at this time, becoming part of the extended community of Pasifika family. This is often taken forward to prayer and uplifted to God in the hope and expectation that there could be healing and relief in the process.

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Finding hope and support

Confiding in your minister is something common and special at these times. Ministers play a big part in our lives and communities and are highly regarded in our culture. Faith for Pasifika people keeps us connected and grounded; it can give us hope. Times of stress, or receiving devastating news like a cancer diagnosis, can leave us feeling many things: anxious, shocked, scared, angry, and so forth. You may also react in a physical way, such as through the fight response to argue. Or you might want to run away and not face it, freeze up, and keep quiet, like you feel when you are shocked.

No matter how you look at it, when anyone is diagnosed with cancer it raises many emotions. Many Pasifika people like to have family around; we process with loved ones and lean on our spiritual beliefs to help us get through. You may contact your church minister for wisdom and guidance and a religious process may be undertaken with a Pasifika flavour.

Pasifika families are like all families that receive devastating news. However your family processes this news, it is important that they show their understanding of cancer in a way that is comfortable for you. For example:

• you might not want to talk to someone straight away

• you might be in shock and feel angry and upset

• you could take time for yourself before you talk to others. Coping with the reactions of others can be a big thing. You may want to ask someone else in your family to be your spokesperson

• you might like to find ways that help ground you in times of high emotion, such as:

  • taking a walk in nature and breathing fresh air
  • doing relaxation exercises
  • using positive self-talk
  • listening to motivational talks that uplift you
  • finding a structure in your day that works for you and builds in some exercise.

You are dealing with feelings of loss and grief and these are big emotions to deal with. These are your emotions and this is your journey. Sometimes talking things through with family, a therapist, or a counsellor can help.

Read Arthur and Tia Tia's story here.

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