Sports aids cancer recovery

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Invictus Games team members, from left, Petty Officer Ihaka Matairangi, Chief Petty Officer Bart Couprie, Major Kiely Pepper and Warrant Officer Class 1 PJ Harimate are among the one-in-three New Zealanders affected by cancer.

The Cancer Society played an important role supporting four inspiring Invictus Games athletes during their cancer treatment and recovery. The power of exercise was crucial to their cancer recovery, read about their story below.

Petty Officer Ihaka Matairangi, Warrant Officer PJ Harimate, Major Kiely Pepper and Chief Petty Officer Bart Couprie have all faced the challenge of cancer and the power of sport helped their recovery.

They’ll represent the New Zealand Defence Force in the 2018 Invictus Games in Sydney in October. Invictus Games is an adaptive sport for disabled or ill service people.

Kiely Pepper has just returned from a world breast cancer dragon boating regatta in Italy where she was part of Wellington’s CanSurvive team that came second overall. Kiely was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015 and says working towards this significant sporting goal helped her recovery.

“It distracts you from the illness and helps you to consider what you can do instead of what you can’t do.”

Kiely says she was well-supported by the Cancer Society during her treatment and recovery. She received excellent advice and information from the Cancer Society booklets, through the 0800 information line, and from Cancer Society staff.

Free carparks were a very practical support for both Kiely and Bart Couprie.

“Combined with help from volunteers in the hospital – these sorts of practical supports made hospital visits less stressful.”

Sydney will be the second Invictus Games for Bart, who competed in his first games in Orlando in 2016 while still being treated for prostate cancer.

He can’t speak highly enough of how being involved in the Invictus Games helped him during his treatment and recovery.

“In the Invictus Games team you’re encouraged to push yourself in a supportive setting. But you also have a community that will step in and tell you when it’s time to take a break and listen to your body.

“Cancer keeps trying to tell you about the things you might not be able to do any more but the Invictus spirit shows you all the things you can do, and you can always do a lot more than you think you can.

“For day-to-day support, I’d recommend the Cancer Society in a heartbeat,” Bart says.

PJ Harimate has friends in the Defence Force who are going through cancer treatment that he has encouraged to join future Invictus Games.

“It has given me the chance to train for individual and team sports - something I would never have contemplated when I was going through my treatment,” he says.

PJ was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2016 and joined a wellness fitness class through the Cancer Society while undergoing chemotherapy. He loved the class.

“I found it relaxing, at a good pace without being too strenuous.”

It is 11 years since Ihaka Matairangi was diagnosed with lung and testicular cancer. Treatment saved his life but left him with cardiomyopathy.

“By late 2007 I was in remission and it was the Invictus Games that gave me a pathway to a better quality of life through sport and fitness.”

The Cancer Society say that exercise has a significant role to play in cancer prevention and recovery.

“In the past, people with cancer were advised to rest and limit their daily activity to help avoid fatigue,” says Mike Kernaghan Cancer Society CEO.

“But research shows regular exercise can increase energy levels and aid in cancer recovery by, for example, improving the immune system, relieving stress and reducing anxiety and depression.”

The Invictus Games Sydney will take place from 20-27 October 2018. About 500 competitors from 18 nations will compete in 11 different adaptive sports in events across Greater Sydney.

The New Zealand Defence Force team’s journey can be followed on: and