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Family’s cancer battle

By Emily Norman

[email protected]

It’s been a rough 18 months for cancer battler Jen Bhati.

The young Featherston mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year, the latest in a string of cancer diagnoses in her family.

She will be representing Wairarapa cancer survivors at the Relay for Life next weekend as she reads the survivors’ oath and lights the first candle for the event which pays respect to survivors, those still suffering, and those who have died.

The 18-hour relay is being held at Clareville Showgrounds on March 18 to 19 from 3.45pm until 8am.

Jen is the daughter of Featherston rural fire officer Porky Sexton, and said cancer was a “huge thing” in the family.

“In December 2015, our niece who was 18 months old was diagnosed with neuroblastoma – there was a tumour wrapped around her kidney,” she said.

“She went through chemo, they amazingly shrunk the tumour and removed it, and she’s doing amazing.”

The day her niece was given the “six week all-clear”, Jen’s mother was diagnosed with lymphoma – “she had a tumour wrapped around her spine”.

“Considering how ravaged her body was from the cancer and everything like that after chemo, we didn’t expect she would bounce back so well from this, but she has and she’s in remission now – there’s no sign of her cancer.”

While her mother’s cancer was being treated, Jen herself was diagnosed with the same cancer, Stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“There’s a big family history for it unfortunately, of different cancers too.

“Mine and mum’s was the same, but in the family, we’ve had bowel cancer, lung cancer, melanoma, others throughout.”

She said her uncle Fred Sexton died of melanoma in 2009, and her aunty Helen ‘Darkie’ Barrow died shortly after a cancer diagnosis in 2013.

Jen had her last chemotherapy round on Tuesday and will know in the next month how effective the treatment has been.

The tumour, which alerted her to the cancer will not be removed — it has shrunk with treatment and will hopefully remain dormant.

“While we’re looking forward to life going back to normal, it will be like a new normal,” she said.

“We can go on living our lives, but those regular checks will always be a part of it.”

Jen’s husband, Ajay, had been a huge support for her, along with family and friends.

“My mother in India has been praying for the last five months,” Ajay said.

“She gets up at 4am and starts — she’s our support network.

“Whenever we have a low day we call her and get inspiration.”

Ajay said he was looking forward to “what’s next” for the couple and their five-year-old daughter.

There are 38 teams registered for Wairarapa’s Relay for Life, and the Wairarapa Cancer Society are now looking for cancer survivors who want to take part in the opening ceremony and put their handprint on the survivor’s banner.

More than 100 survivors are expected to take part in the opening ceremony, walking the first lap behind the banner following a piper.

As darkness falls, those who have lost family and friends to cancer light a candle and write messages on their decorated candle bags which are placed around the course.

To register your interest in the event, or purchase event candle bags for $5, contact the Wairarapa Cancer Society on 06 378 8039.


  1. Super proud of you Jen, battling this familiar foe and never giving up!
    One day at a time, one step at a time gets you closer to your Good news story that you’ve won! . Praying for you and AJ and Stella as you walk this sometimes lonely and distressing journey together. Light and love to you all ??. We will be walking the talk at Wellington Cancer Relay for Life at Frank Kitts Park this Saturday. Kia kaha e hoa!! ❤️❤️

  2. My Wife survived Cervical Cancer while her Mum died of the same cancer while she was receiving treatment. Then 2 years later fort breast cancer. Being 3 years clear we know there can be life after cancer. REGULAR CHECK UP’S are the key.

  3. Thoughts and prayers are with you
    Jen and all family and friends affected by this dreadful disease. Having lost my wonderful sister who was also my bestest friend to cancer in December last year I know the delegation it has on people’s lives. X

Comments are closed.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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