Tag Archives: pancreatic cancer

7 years on….

Hey there, it’s been a quick minute since I last posted (actually like 10 months) but we’ll skip over that and i’ll just get to the point.

Today marks 7 years since Nick passed away. Yep, I know what you’re thinking, ‘already 7 years’, ‘that’s gone quickly’ and ‘why am i reading this, who’s Nick?’

Well, keep reading….

I won’t go over the same things I wrote about on his 6 years gone by post, you can read it by clicking here or what I wrote for his 5 year anniversary post, you can find it here.

And on the odd chance you just stumbled here, click here to know a bit more about Nick’s story.

I’ve spent time today going through the hours of footage Nick left us, going about his everyday life during his treatment and it’s after effects, to his monologues for our then baby girl, of what he wanted her to be in life, ‘kind, thoughtful, patient and beautiful, just like your mum’,  his own words, I swear!

Of course, she has become all those things and more, and she is way more beautiful at 8, than I could ever be!

On reflecting on the past 7 years, it makes me extra grateful to have these clips of him. They remind me of his being a perfectionist, with a video he filmed of himself trimming our garden hedge, his dedication to his work life with the many clips of him talking to his work mates and of course his love for us and our families, with so many of him talking about everyone and what they meant to him.

I’m grateful for these videos, for a selfish reason too, because i’m scared as the years go on, that my memories won’t be as sharp.

That I’ll forget about the time we first stated dating and he wore the dorkiest sandals to the beach, or the fact he secretly loved Britney Spears and would play her albums over and over in his car, or how complimentary he always was about what I wore and how vocal he was about what we ate for dinner.

The Funeral - The Final Goodbye - part 2
Nicks memorial card

Will I remember the names of his mentors from work who he spoke about constantly, wanting to emulate their career paths. He had such respect for those who had come before him, telling me he’d be just like them and better one day.

I’ll always remember the way he had of talking to you, when he was trying to get a point across. It was both parts demanding and motivating, all at once. Sometimes during these lectures, I’d zone out but gosh, I wish I’d recorded some of these chats to replay to myself now. Those are the things I wish I remembered verbatim.

Will I always remember the look on his face, when he told me about his terminal cancer diagnosis, unfortunately yes, that look still haunts me. His blank stare, trying to be brave, but holding back tears. The questions hanging in the air between us, with no answers.

Will I remember what his first car was, what his first pet’s name was, what his favourite memory from school was, what he wanted to be when he was a kid?

The many conversations we had over the years aren’t all stored in my memory, and after 10 years together and 7 years since he’s been gone, i’m getting a little rusty and it scares me.

Luckily, I have so many videos and photos of our time together, just one picture will take me back to that time in place, the start of a video will remind me of that part of our lives.

For as crazy as people thought it was to document his treatment, it has turned into the best memory I have of him. It’s real, honest and raw in every way, but it’s Nick in all his glory showing his strength and bravery when the world was so against him.

He is sorely missed, not just today but everyday. He is still spoken about, not just sometimes, but every single day and he is loved, not just while he was with us, but every day since he’s been gone too.

Thanks for reading along, til next time, whenever that might be?!?

Michela xx

 

Got me thinking this week

Hi again, sorry for the lack of creativity in my title today, but honestly, it’s just something that ‘got me thinking this week’ and also apologies for the lack of posts lately, just been winding it down a little.

Back to this week’s post, I happened to chance upon a segment on the morning Today show last week, at a time when we’re normally watching Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, (honestly one of the cuter kids shows on ABC2, you gotta love Nanny Plum!), it was a piece on Peter Harvey and the legacy he has left behind following his death.

For those who don’t know, Peter Harvey was a well respected Australian journalist of over 35 years, who quickly lost his battle to pancreatic cancer in March last year.

I watched as his daughter and a doctor from the Pancreatic Cancer Research Group, spoke about the disease that also claimed Nick’s life, and for those who didn’t know, Patrick Swayze’s too.

I admit before Nick was diagnosed, I didn’t even know what a pancreas was, or why we needed it, though google quickly filled us in.

The current stats for Australia are below:

In 2014, it’s estimated 2,890 Australians will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality of all major cancers with less than 5% of patients reaching the 5 year survival mark

Two thirds of pancreatic patients die within the first year of diagnosis, like Nick did!

Survival rates for pancreatic cancer have not changed in nearly 40 years, that’s crazy!!

Not exactly positive stuff!

Compared to other cancers, it receives the least amount of fundraising for research. They say it’s partly because the patients die before they can become advocates for the illness, unlike other cancers that have higher survival rates and celebrity backing.

It kinda sucks!

And to the point of my entry today, I feel like I have contributed to this problem!

What? I hear you say…I mean,  i’m no celebrity who could have helped raise millions for the cause, no Dad, me writing a blog does not make me famous!

But, when Nick died, instead of asking for donations to assist in pancreatic cancer research, like I now wish I had done, in lieu of flowers, I asked for donations to be made to Epworth Hospital where he’d received his care.

Now back then, we had spent so much time at the hospital, I was practically one of the staff, ok maybe just a volunteer, I had no official title, badge or anything really…

I made friendships, that almost 4 years on, I still have. It was like a second family, who knew us so well.

At the time of Nick’s death, it was suggested by someone from the hospital that they could supply donation envelopes for the funeral service, that would assist them with their fundraising.

Of course, I jumped on the idea of wanting to help my ‘family’ post Nick’s death, as a thank you for all their support.

Following the funeral, I was asked to come and speak to a representative of the hospital who dealt with the donations, to discuss where I wanted the money spent.

They had received approx $3,000, which I was impressed by, could you imagine a floral bouquet worth that much!!! I must add Toyota did provide a very sizeable chunk of that, such was their generosity!!

And i’ll also add, i’m completely positive, that people took envelopes with no intention of providing donations, but such is human nature, right?

I was given a running sheet by the hospital, as the donations flowed in, with names and amounts and another with a list of hospital items and their worth, ranging from a park bench to actual equipment.

All I knew, was that I wanted the cancer ward to receive the donation, hello 4EW! and we settled on an IV drip machine thing, that administers the chemo to the patient, the bane of our existence for those 7 months, but I mastered it in the end, I had to, that beeping drove me crazy!!

Told you I was practically staff there, I mean they never called security on me when they found me raiding their supply cupboard.

In another meeting to discuss the donation, I was told the piece of equipment purchased would have Nick’s name etched on it, so I thought that was a nice gesture and as a bonus, my daughter received an Epworth cowboy teddy for our efforts. Yay, another stuffed toy for her collection!

Months later in the mail, I received an invitation to the unveiling of some new donation plarks, Nick’s name was going on their donation wall in the foyer.

But, I couldn’t go, I was over the hospital by then, and was in my ‘i’m never travelling to Richmond or the Epworth ever again’ phase.

I felt i’d given enough of myself to them, I was spent!

I hadn’t thought about all this for such a long time, until I saw the segment on Today. Why didn’t I collect money for pancreatic cancer research instead ??

By all accounts, Epworth Hospital must be doing ok, they are a private hospital and c’mon, the other week Kanye West shut down the entire emergency department and adjoining rooms for a few hours just to see a doctor, i’m sure he would have left a sack of money for their troubles on his way out!

Hearing that pancreatic cancer receives the least amount of funding, makes me sad that I could have helped in some little way. I have though, personally donated to the cause but nowhere near the amount we ‘gifted’ the Epworth after Nick’s death.

While I don’t regret what happened then, I was still in a bit of a fog, I went with what felt right at the time, something with hindsight I might have done differently.

No obligation, but I thought i’d best add the link to donate here if you have been touched by our story and want to assist or if you just want to read more about pancreatic cancer, their website is super informative.

Got me thinking this week
Nick having chemo with his favourite girl

So that’s what got me thinking this week, hope you stayed with me til the end, this was a bit of a ramble!

Thank you too, for your continued love and support of me and this blog, even when I haven’t been writing weekly, I have still received beautiful, inspiring emails from you! They truly make my day.

Thank you also for sharing around my blog and having it find its way to other widows and people grieving, they always write to tell me how encouraging they find my posts. That truly warms my heart!

Til next time, Michela x

 

The circus has come to town

Welcome to today’s post – The circus has come to town because that’s exactly what it felt like following Nick’s death, if you haven’t caught up on that post, you can read it here.

Also this week, my daughter Claudia noticed that a circus has set up near our place, and she has taken to running around saying, ‘The circus has come to town’, so this is also a nod to her.

Nick was gone, it had happened approx. 5.07am, 5th February, 2011.

The circus has come to town
Nick on holiday in Greece, 2008

All that was left was his frail body. His face had lost all expression, he didn’t even look like Nick anymore. To me, this was just his physical form, the Nick I knew had left his body at the moment, he took his final breath.

After walking out and telling our families the news, there were instant tears and wailing, as you could imagine. His mum tore into my room and grabbed at her boy, trying her best to hold him through her tears. She couldn’t be consoled, neither could his father.

I just remember walking through to the kitchen and trying my best to be normal, yet knowing in that instance that everything had changed, nothing would be the same again.

Knowing I had to be in charge, and that this day would be my toughest yet. Nick wasn’t with me, to tell me what to do next, to support me when I needed him the most, it was the first time I ever felt truly alone, it was all on me from here on.

It was too early in the morning to start making any arrangements for Nick, so instead I made coffee and my sister, Franca and brother in law Eden set about sending out text messages, letting our friends know what had just happened. Phone calls were made to close family members, asking them to pass on the message, because telling so many people was emotionally draining.

At one point, remembering we had to tell his work and some of his other friends and knowing their numbers were only in Nick’s phone, I made the bad judgement call to send the message from his phone.

I always imagine the look on their faces getting an early morning message from Nick, hoping it held good news and then reading it to learn of his passing instead. My personal apology here, if you were one of the people who learnt about it this way, i’m so sorry.

There was a constant buzz in my place, phones beeping, calls coming through, I could hear the relaying of his week, ‘yeah, he went in on Monday….they didn’t think he’d go so soon…she’s holding up really well so far…..so strong’.

It went on and on. I was so thankful to have everyone else fielding the calls for me.

Arrangements were made without my input, my sister would stay with me the night with her then baby. They didn’t want me alone, I protested but they wouldn’t listen, too scared that i’d have a meltdown when everyone left.

For the record, I never did, but my family were amazing and so supportive, both then and now.

The visitors started to arrive, the crying got louder, but people were also congregating in smaller groups, talking in whispers. ‘Is she ok?……no, really, is she alright?…..so young…..i just saw him this week.’

Family came that I barely knew to pay their respects, I smiled politely, offered them a coffee, thanked them for coming.

Nick was still in our room, the visitors came in and went straight to him. Pawing at him, kissing his hands and face, crying over his body. I’ll tell you now, Nick would have hated it, but I couldn’t stop them, they wanted to see him. Being of Greek (Nick) and Italian (me) backgrounds, I knew this was just their way of mourning.

It was getting to be early morning and I had a job to do. What most people wouldn’t know about having a loved one die at home, is that once it happens, you need to have a doctor visit to confirm the death and to sign off on a death certificate. You can’t proceed without funeral arrangements etc without one.

I thought this would be easy enough…cue naivety here!

Firstly, I tried to find a quiet corner of the house to make the calls, signalling to my family that i’d be 2 minutes, just needed to make one quick call. I called the hospital doctor who’d we’d dealt with, thinking he’d pop right over, but no, he was busy and wouldn’t be able to make it.

So, I started calling around, to our home hospital doctor who’d come to visit every second day, he to was tied up with living patients, who had priority over a dead one apparently.

I found the number the palliative care unit had given me, they also couldn’t come out to where we lived, it was out of their area code, they’d been assigned to us when we were living in the city. Another dead end!

I had a brain wave to call Nick’s family GP, I ran out to his mum and asked for the surgery’s details, and gave them a call, nope, also a no go, tied up with patients all day and they didn’t do home visits. Well, Nick sure couldn’t get to them!

Arrgh, I was starting to lose my cool, until finally I called one of our home nurses and pleaded with her, she gave me the number for a doctor who we’d only seen once, but she thought might have been on our side of town today doing visits. I called and begged him to come by, luckily he remembered us (Nick always left a lasting impression) and he offered to come in a couple of hours.

Crisis averted, but it made me realise this was such an easy thing when you pass away in a hospital, there’s usually a doctor who do this for you in an instant.

I regained my composure and still I stayed calm and in control.

Knowing that the doctor was coming, I thought I’d better get Nick looking good. I asked everyone to leave my room and closed the doors behind me.

Finally, we were alone again. I went and sat by him and in hushed tones (because the house was full of people!) I apologised to Nick for all the hands and groping and had a laugh with him about the number of people who’d come out to see him.

I got a wet towel and gently wiped down his body,  I changed him out of his pajamas, putting on a brand new pair and finished with a spray of his favourite aftershave. Nick was always conscious of his appearance, telling me ‘people will always judge you based on how you look, whether it’s right or wrong.’ I knew he’d want me to make him look his best. If I could, I would have put him in his favourite jeans, but it was tough enough to wrangle his legs into pajama bottoms!

The minute I opened the bedroom doors again, there were people waiting to see him, honestly, if I could, I would have charged admission and made up Claudia’s university fund. (Damn, why didn’t I think of that at the time!)

More coffee and countless, ‘how you holding up?’ conversations later, our doctor finally arrived. Again I asked for privacy, as the doctor examined Nick to tell us what we already knew. I asked that he remove all the bits Nick had from his body, mainly the morphine pump and to close off his chemo port on his arm.

Within 20 mins he had finished what he needed to do and left me with Nick’s signed death certificate, with his cause of death listed as metastic pancreatic cancer, malignant ascites and deep vein thrombosis.

The circus has come to town
Extract of Death Certificate

I felt like every eye was on me, as the home doctor left, most were too scared to come and talk directly to me, I think no one could really believe that I was ok, watching me for signs of a breakdown.

Waiting for me to cry and scream, ‘this isn’t fair’, but that wasn’t me. My sister was surrounded by people asking her, ‘how is she?, no really, how is she?’. Thinking somehow she’d have a different answer for them, than I had.

I was just doing what had to be done, someone needed to be in control of this day, because everyone else had fallen to pieces.

I wasn’t being ‘strong for my daughter’, as everyone suggested, I was just being me and as I learnt, I can handle tough situations and times of crisis without falling apart.

News of Nick’s death had spread like wildfire, he had touched the lives of so many people. I felt awkward accepting people’s offers of condolence, when I felt the people that truly needed it, were his parents. They had never quite believed this would happen, they were distraught and that’s putting it mildly.

I was going to be ok, I had mourned Nick’s death with him and watched him die a little more every day, since his diagnosis. This hadn’t come as a shock to me, we spoke of it often. I was at ease with what had happened, as much as my heart was broken, I knew it was what had to be.

The circus has come to town
Us on our wedding day 22nd January, 200

I had promised Nick on his last days, that I would be there for his parents, who he knew would need the support more than I would, he cheekily said to me, ‘mum and dad are going to drive you nuts, but please ignore it and be there for them.’ And I can honestly say, I have.

Though it would have been easy for me to fall into my own grief and ignore the hurt of everyone around me, I instead chose to be their strength when they couldn’t get up anymore.

I will leave you with this one moment from that day, it was getting later in the day and all I really wanted was to have a shower. Having been on the go for so long, I needed to freshen up. Nick was still holed up in our bedroom and we had an open en suite off it, so I knew i’d need some privacy in order to have my quick shower.

The house still had some visitors, but it was mostly close family, so I went about excusing myself and asking they didn’t go into my room for the next 15 mins, my sister passed word around too and I quickly rushed off and closed my bedroom doors behind me, very firmly.

Finally, I was alone, and I found the only piece of quiet, in this otherwise crazy circus of a day. As I started to get lost in my thoughts, letting the hot water wash over me, I heard the familiar sounds of our bedroom doors opening and 3-4 people entering my room.  I froze, here I was at my most naked and vulnerable and I had people less than 2 meters away from me, crying over Nick.

Surely they must have noticed the closed doors and heard the water running?!? That they’d been so impatient to see Nick, that they burst in anyway. He wasn’t about to get up and leave, he’d still be there in 15 minutes time.

That’s when I lost my cool, I turned off the water, grabbed my towel around me and started yelling, ‘could you please leave the room, i’m trying to have a shower.’ Luckily the slight partitioned wall, meant they couldn’t see me and they sneaked out, while I regained my composure again and then started to laugh at the absurdity of it.

Because even in the worst of days like this one, after losing the love of my life and spending hours trying to round up a doctor, having my home filled with visitors and having to convince everyone I was ok, I still able to laugh at the shower scene!

It was ok to laugh.

There has to be some light in an otherwise dark day.

I’ll leave it there for today, and will focus next week on the rest of the day and the lead up to the funeral, oh what fun that was!

Let me know if you try and find the light in an otherwise dark day too?

Feel free to share this post, you never know who might draw some inspiration from it.

And lastly, welcome to all my new readers and thank you to everyone still reading along and leaving me comments. I love hearing from you.

Til next week, Michela xx

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And then his last day came

If you haven’t read last weeks post, then you might want to do that before beginning today’s- and then his last day came. If you’ve only just found this site, welcome, but you’ll probably want to start from the beginning so you can catch up!

Now that’s out of the way, let’s begin.

We had made it home in the ambulance, no sirens blaring, it was a little different to Nick’s last trip in one. We pulled up out the front of our house and they wheeled him in on the stretcher, our friend John had already arrived and watched as Nick was taken out of the ambulance.

He told me at the time, that he noticed Nick look more relaxed as he realised he was home, that the tension in his face disappeared.

I knew we’d done the right thing, it was where Nick wanted to be, back in our home in the suburbs.

It was the first home we bought together, the home we poured our hearts and hard work into, the place we first bought our little girl home to, our home of many gatherings and fun memories and now it would be the place of his final breath.

We set Nick up in our bedroom, as comfortable as we could make him. He was only semi-conscious, drifting in and out of sleep and not being able to say very much, his voice was just a whisper.

And then his last day came
Happier times at a work function in 2007

Phone calls were made, letting friends and family know of his new situation, many of them couldn’t believe how quickly it had transpired, some were planning on visiting the hospital that day. I asked for privacy at that time, as the last thing I wanted was a circus on an already emotional day.

I kept things calm and in control. A few people were invited to come and say their goodbyes, others preferred not to, wanting to keep their last memories of Nick, happy ones instead.  I completely understood this.

Our parents arrived, as did our siblings and I re-iterated what the doctors had told me, ‘this was the end, his body was shutting down, there was nothing more that could be done for Nick, we had to let nature take it’s course now, as hard as it was to watch.’ Of course, no one wants to be the one to deliver this news, but I was the only one who could.

There was nothing else left to do, I couldn’t even drain his ascites, which was one of the indications that the end was near, as his body had even stopped producing the fluid. It was slowly letting go. He was on a morphine pump, so he wasn’t in any pain, it administered the medication at regular intervals to keep him comfortable.

And then I set about doing what any European does in times of stress, I made coffee, over and over again.

Throughout the day, everyone had their time with Nick, to say the things they wanted to say, or just to sit and cry. My grandmother sat at his side with her rosary beads praying. His parents, understandably, were inconsolable, nothing could give them any peace. We were literally watching him get closer to the end, with every breath he took.

I kept my cool, making sure there was no screaming or carrying on, I kept saying, ‘Nick wouldn’t want to hear any wailing over him, let him go in peace.’ I asked that our bedroom remain quiet and comforting for him instead.

I gave his parents alone time with him, closing my double bedroom doors, so they could be with their son. Their youngest boy, who they obviously adored, who they spent so much time with, who had called his Dad his best friend.

There were angry words said too, but I always knew they came from being scared of a life without Nick, of feeling helpless. They cursed the hospital, his doctors etc. but the truth was, everyone had done all they could, this was inevitable.

I was at peace knowing we had done our best, Nick had confided to me, just the week before, that he was done and over it all. As heart breaking as it was, this was what he wanted too. He couldn’t fight it anymore, pancreatic cancer was going to claim his life.

Over the course of the day, he deteriorated, his waking moments were far and few between, his eyes were permanently half closed. Occasionally a faint smile would cross his lips, like he was remembering a moment in time. He no longer squeezed against my hand, acknowledging that I was there.

We didn’t know if he could hear us anymore, but we kept on talking, especially me, chatting to him like normal, laughing as I re-counted times we shared together and funny moments.  I think everyone thought I was mad that day, not falling into a heap, but it was all I knew how to do, I just wanted Nick to be reminded of all the good times we had, to go out in the most positive way.

It started to get late, Claudia our daughter was put to bed, our families were camped out around the house, no one was wanting to sleep. Mostly there was silence, but Nick was never alone, someone was with him at all times. A constant revolving door, as one person left his side to regain their composure and another took their spot. I bustled in and out, making sure everyone was comfortable, while stealing my moments with Nick.

It was important to me, that everyone had their alone time with Nick, I didn’t feel the need to hover over him constantly, he knew I was there and our families needed the closure.

And then night came, no one was wanting to leave, just in case, though I assured everyone that if they needed to go, I would call if anything happened.

Everyone kind of settled in for the night and  then it was my time alone with Nick. I lay down besides him and held his hand. I continued to softly talk to him about all the wonderful things we’d done together. He was not responsive at all, but I hoped that he could hear me still.

His eyes, though half closed, were transfixed on a spot on the ceiling, I started whispering to him, ‘if there is a light or something, go towards it, let go, we’ll be fine.’ I repeatedly told him, not to hold on for me, that Claudia and I would be ok, we had all the love and support in the world. I thanked him, for choosing me to spend his life with, for being the best husband, father, son and friend to so many. I promised he’d never be forgotten, hence this blog!

I talked on and on, promising to look after his parents and always include them in our daughters life, I spoke of all the things I thought he’d want to hear. I thanked him for all the lessons in life he had shown me and finally, I told him I loved him and would continue to love him all the years of my life.

It had been a long day, having arrived home at 10am, it was now early morning once more, the house was quiet, as mostly everyone had drifted off.

Nick was holding on, his breathing raspy and deep. I remember looking at our bedside table clock it was 4.50am. I was exhausted, I hadn’t drifted off to sleep yet and then I closed my eyes, for what felt like a minute, but was probably closer to 10.

I opened them again and just like that, I noticed he was gone. There had been no sounds, no changes.  I like to think he had waited til we were alone together, til there was silence and everyone was sleeping, til he took his final breath. I’ll always believe he was in control of when the time came.

I sat with him for a while, kissed him goodbye, closed his eyes and relaxed his legs. The doctors had warned me that he could be in this state for days or even weeks, I felt relief that he had only remained like this for such a short time, the relief extended to Nick not suffering anymore. It was over.

And then his last day came
One of my favourite shots, from Derby Day 2010

I walked calmly out of my bedroom and gave the news no one was ready for, “He’s gone’, I said and then the circus really began.

Thank you for reading along, stay tuned next week and i’ll begin with the aftermath of Nick’s passing.

Please keep sharing, liking and commenting, I love knowing your thoughts and how it leaves you feeling.

If it makes you grateful for all you have or makes you act a little kinder towards others, please let me know!

Til next week, Michela xx

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