'Māori have to evolve to survive': Stan Walker reflects on cancer battle

  • 26/03/2018

Kiwi pop artist Stan Walker says Māori attitudes around health have to change in order for his people to survive.

The singer spoke to The Project's Kanoa Lloyd the day after a documentary broadcast on Three showcased his battle with stomach cancer.

While his health problems are far from over, he says he's "very much alive".

"I've got no stomach, got no appendix... but I'm like man, I'm actually living my best life."

The 27-year-old made Stan in order to make it easier for other New Zealanders to open up about their own health issues.

"Cancer's such a tapu, or taboo, subject to talk about," he says.

"A lot of people tread lightly and treat people different who have got it - they baby them. I hate being babied."

One of the groups he hopes the film will affect is Māori, who have higher cancer rates than other ethnicities. Stan shows Walker's grandfather Rangi undergoing an operation to treat the same type of cancer as his grandson, which the singer says was "huge" culturally.

"The things that they had to do - like you get banished from being Māori, you're done. That's so hard for us to talk about as Māori."

He says his people's ideas around seeking treatment for health issues need to change with the times.

"We live in a different world, not back in the ra when we were riding the moa. As Māori people we have to evolve to survive."

Walker hopes that by sharing his own battle with cancer, he can reach "all those kinds of people in every different family, these stubborn old minds who think that they can beat cancer, beat sickness".

"They think they're all good - they're not all good. You almost want to give them a hiding, give their stubborn proudness a hiding."

One of the documentary's most powerful moments shows Walker's first performance in Rarotonga post-surgery, which Lloyd admits brought her to tears. For the singer, who hadn't been sure his famous voice would ever return to normal, the concert was a turning point.

"I tried singing as soon as I could. I was at home and it was like I'd jumped into somebody else's body and I couldn't control the voice. I was like 'Lord, my voice is gone man'.

"On the night of the show was the first time my voice came out and I was like, 'I don't know what is happening, but thank you Jesus'. I just had tears coming out of my eyes like it was raining."

Walker's stomach was removed in September, meaning he can't eat like he used to. While he got used to healthier food, his cravings for junk food are starting to return.

"Food is actual life. I dream about food. Right now my mouth is watering because we're talking about food and I'm thinking about a lamb roast drowned in gravy," he said.

"Of all the things I've gone through, that is the actual hardest thing."

Walker has had to cope with public speculation about his health ever since photos emerged of him looking skinnier than normal.

"It didn't affect me until it affected my family, until my family had to go on Facebook or read the paper or watch a video on YouTube or something.

"There's forums, there's pages, there's videos - there's all these things saying I'm on crack, I've got eating disorders.

"When I was at gigs, people were hovering over me to see if I was actually a vegan. Who does that?"

Walker hopes his story will inspire others to think before they jump to conclusions about other people's private lives.

"Don't judge if you don't know, don't speak if you don't know the whole thing," he said.

"If you're missing one little bit in the story you don't know the story."