“Stop and slow down. Treasure every moment you have with the people you love, weave out all the rubbish but focus on what really matters.”
That’s the message Seiuli Tuilagi Allan Alo Vaai wants to tell the people of Samoa following a life-changing trip to New Zealand where he was diagnosed with stage 4 Metastasis Lung Cancer and Brain Cancer.
Speaking to the Sunday Samoan, the President of the Samoa Arts Council (S.A.C) and prominent choreographer said the diagnosis came as a shock to him. He was active, living a healthy lifestyle and being told about such a situation was the last thing on his mind.
As the President of S.A.C, it was the end of a massive week for the Arts and Fashion Industry that Seiuli received the grim news.
“We had that show for the whole week and on the night of the show, it was raining and I was the MC so I actually got sick and it was pneumonia,” he said.
“It was from pneumonia that the doctor said they had to scan me. After the fourth day of being hospitalised, they found there was a tumour inside my right lung but they said there was nothing they could do here. It can only be done in New Zealand.”
He was evacuated to New Zealand only to find he had a condition called “metastasis lung cancer.”
“The tumour that was in my right lung had spread around my whole organs and it spread to my liver and to my lymph nodes which causes it to swell up and then to the brain. So the whole thing went around and that’s when they told me it’s stage 4 which is the final stage of cancer.”
As if being told he had cancer was not bad enough, Seiuli said he was then told that he had three months to live. This was in September.
“They gave me one month to live if I wasn’t to be treated but three months if I was to start the treatment straight away,” he said.
“It was a shock in New Zealand with the doctor telling me my fate and I was like ‘okay’. I was numbed, I was in a state of shock and I couldn’t believe my life was on hold and especially when I have already had it all planned out from now until twenty years time.”
Seiuli said it was a very difficult time.
“I was told I had to go through radiotherapy but first I had to go through radiation in order to contain the brain cancer first because the tumour is already inside my brain and after that then they will treat the rest of my body.”
And being the active person he is, Seiuli said it took a while for the actuality of the situation to sink in.
“While the doctor was telling me all this, I was thinking oh my goodness I still have the launch of the project we have been working on since the beginning of this year which I thought we were going to launch it next year but now I only have until December,” said Seiuli. “I quickly contacted all my dancers and my students in Fiji and my whole family to start helping out in getting this project done so it can be to be launched in December and it will be open next week Saturday.”
Asked if the news had changed him in anyways or his plans and goals in future, Seiuli said no.
“It hasn’t really changed how I feel about my life and my passion about the development of arts knowing that I am the President,” he said. “We are all about the development of arts for the people in Samoa and when we talk about the arts here, we’re not just talking about dance, music or storytelling it’s about everything. It’s a passion and I still feel very passionate about the developments of art here in Samoa because it’s not given priority,
“Even if you look around the curriculum in schools, we still need to focus more on it and government needs to put more money into these programmes.”
Back to his condition, Seiuli said the stress of a number of projects he had been working on did not help him.
“I think with my condition I was so stressed out with so much work that I was doing and it didn’t really help. So the stress of the work that I was doing kind of enhanced and sped up this tumour to go around and again the life style that I have from the pressure.”
Today, Seiuli said it’s important for everyone to make the most of life, live happy and stress-free.
“A lot of people when they are told that they have cancer they say they are going to die,” he said. “I can never curl up or pull down and say “I’m gonna die” as a matter of fact when the doctor told me that I have one to three months to live, I wanted to get up and punch his face. I was thinking “who the heck do you think you are?
“O oe o se Atua e ke ka’ua mai ai aso ou ke ola ai? (Are you a God to tell me how long I have left to live?) That’s just not me I mean I got cancer, I got the sickness okay fine I’ll deal with it.
“It’s about changing your whole outlook and your mind and that’s one of the things that I have learnt now is to forget about all the stress and everything else so worry less.
“No more stress, but think of the positive things that can make a difference in people’s lives. [And] I think I have always been trying to do that but now it’s time to just weave out all the rubbish and focus on what really matters.
“So positivity and perseverance and just being charitable and forgiving.”
Today, Seiuli said he has learnt to slow down a bit.
“This condition is a lifelong challenge and it’s a life changing experience for me and with that I now realise that I need to slow down from doing too much,” he said.
“I think in Samoa we are all like that, we always rush into things and we want to do everything all by ourselves but no we need to stop and say no to some things.”
He also stresses the importance of having a close relationship with the people you love.
“What really made me value more right now is my relationship with my family, my mother my sister and those who really love me and everyone in my family,” said Seiuli. “It’s a treasure and we need to atone with that a little bit more and appreciate that because we are so busy all the time.
“Even in Samoa we are so small but we have a lot of faalavelaves, church commitments, and all those things but not enough time to spend with our loved ones and our family. We just go home after work and say hello had dinner and then sleep or watch movies but never have that quality time to come together.
“When I went to New Zealand I went with my sister Dr. Saine Vaai and also my mother and they were very supportive.
“We spent eight weeks there and it was the most beautiful eight weeks and that’s when I realised that we needed to slow down and stop.”
As for the future, Seiuli said his focus is to get healthier.
“If they review it in December and the medication is working then I have a chance of going back to New Zealand to review it again and go through a scan again.”
In the meantime, he acknowledges the support from everyone who has helped him through the tough times.
“I want to acknowledge our sources of inspiration and first is our culture and all these things that we believe in,” he said. “The support for me from my University of the South Pacific and also the Government of Samoa for using me to work and do a lot of things.
“It has been a pleasure and an honour to be selected to direct and conceptualise all these big things the government wants me to do.”
He acknowledges Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa.
“It is also my faith in God through Jesus Christ that allowed me to be positive in my entire outlook on the cancer journey.
“Holding on to that faith and being reassured by prayers of many families, friends and churches like the Carmelite sisters, the various church groups in New Zealand such as the Samoan EFKS and various denominations who came to say their prayers.
“As well as the Universal Church of Jesus Christ had really maintained and affirmed my faith to fight through despite the pain each moment. So Cancer bring it on.”