The last one is the hardest to write…bear with me it will be a long one xx
I started writing our ‘Cancer – the Story of Us’ posts around 3 years ago, to keep our family updated on Bren’s cancer treatment. And it was Bren’s wish that his story was told right to the end. He knew his story was helping others.
It is with a broken heart I write the final chapter today.
Brendan was diagnosed with undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma in June 2014. He had a primary tumour in his right thigh and another smaller one in his left, with metastasis in his lungs. We were in trouble from the get-go. But Bren was strong, healthy (other than cancer) and determined from day one. I know those who have followed his story from the start saw that. And because of his strength and determination, we got to share three more years and a couple of months with him that we would not have had otherwise.
Three years of aggressive treatment followed his diagnosis and he took it all on like the Superman he was. He never complained. When he lost his leg in the March of 2015 he made sure he was able to dance with his daughter, on his prosthetic, at her year six farewell that November.
After seven days of 24-hour chemo infusions and a 5 hour trip home in August that same year, he attended an event our community had thrown for him (us) and yes he danced there too. He loved to dance.
It was not unusual for you guys to see him at the beach on weekends, when he was well enough, with the kids, our dog Otis and me. Or just with me if we could sneak away on our own. He would leave his crutches on the sand and hop or bum shuffle into the ocean. He could get out the back, past the waves as easily as any able-bodied person and was able to body surf with ease.
I had never seen him happier than when our brother Andy helped him get back on his surfboard for the first time after his amputation, or sadder than when he stood, leaning on his crutches, tears rolling down his face as he watched the boys surf second corner.
He and I were busted swimming naked in the lagoon one sunny day, late in 2016. (please don’t tell the kids) We thought we were safe — it was during school hours, and there shouldn’t have been anyone around. He thought it was hilarious, I was mortified! My husband had the ability to encourage me to step outside my comfort zone and did every chance he got. His heart was bigger than anyone I know and his sense of humour was infectious. He shared that heart and cheekiness with all of us — often.
It was around the same time, late 2016 that we were told the chemo tablet Brendan was taking was no longer as effective as it needed to be, and that there was a new trial in place that he was invited to take part in. His doctors were excited about it. It looks like it could be a revolutionary way of treating cancers like Brendan’s in the future and he has been a part of the research that will help others. Sadly for us, it didn’t help Bren. By about April 2017, all treatment options for Bren’s cancer had been exhausted. It was now that his health declined and his pain increased rapidly.
He went from taking long walks on the beach with his family and swimming in the ocean — to being housebound and limited in everything that is normal for the rest of us. The simplest things like lying down, having a shower or using the bathroom became excruciating and something he would have to recover from. And still, he didn’t complain. He became sound sensitive and no longer wanted to listen to the music he had always loved.
Now unable to leave the house, or even sit in his wheelchair outside, in the last months of his life, he was very much a prisoner of a body that was failing him — a body he had always taken care of and that had returned the favour for as long as it possibly could. He had not been able to get outside to feel the sun on his face or the breeze against his body for months. The little things I once mindlessly took for granted were out of his reach.
Cancer had finally stolen everything from him that it could, physically, but it didn’t take his strength, resilience, sense of humour, intellect, compassion or love. Nor did it take the love of his family, friends and community, in fact, it strengthened those. Brendan stayed with us for as long as he could, but he was exhausted, and his beautiful, strong body had given him all it had to give. We knew that the time was closer than we ever wanted it to be – even so, we weren’t ready to say goodbye.
Nothing was left unsaid between us and for that I am grateful.
It was on Monday 28th of August that for the first time in three years we were given an amount of time we could expect Brendan to have left. We were told to look at about six weeks and we were devastated. You know — Brendan wasn’t afraid of death. He knew for him the pain would be over and peace would be his, he’d earned that. He was afraid for us. He told me he was worried he didn’t have his little fellas where they needed to be to cope without him. He was worried about me. He knew when the time came his pain would be over and ours would just begin.
I think being told that he only had weeks left was a gift of sorts all the same. I’m guessing then and there he said to himself…’No! I’m not putting my family or me through any more of this, not if the end is that close!’
His condition took a massive turn for the worse overnight and I called his palliative care nurse to come back to the house as soon as he could. We knew from the very beginning that Bren wouldn’t spend his last days in the hospital, and palliative care had been making it possible for me to care for him at home. We were told on the 29th that this was it and I should get our families here immediately and tell the children that we were going to lose him.
I took our two thirteen-year-olds out onto our back veranda while my sister Deb stayed to comfort Bren and did one of the hardest things I will ever do in my life. They knew how sick Bren was but now it was time to let them know daddy might die that night. They were beyond devastated. When we were able to compose ourselves they came into their dad, wrapped their arms around him and told him they loved him and that he was the best dad in the world – over and over. It was while this was happening that Bren looked up at me and said he could see a cross in their tears. He is not religious. It was the first of many signs we would receive to let us know heaven was ready to welcome him.
My brave husband endured until he had seen every family member and friend he loved who could get to him in such a short period of time, including his sister from Sydney and brother from Melbourne. By the end of the day his pain relief was being given to him through a syringe driver and that was when he lost his ability to speak to us.
Bren stayed with us through the night and the next day. Wednesday night we had a quiet night just like we normally would. After an early dinner, we all cuddled up in the lounge room together and watched TV – Bren in his recliner, me on the lounge and the kids on mattresses on the floor, his mum was sleeping in our room. Bren and I had been sleeping in the lounge room for months and the kids the last couple of days.
Everyone who could get home had been to say their goodbyes.
So in the early hours of the morning, I let the love of my life know it was Ok to leave us now, that we would all be OK. And so he did, just after 5am — held in the arms of his mum, his two children and his wife – all of us telling him how much we loved him. My hand was resting on his heart and as he took his last gentle breath I felt his heart’s last beat. It was the most peaceful, dignified passing anyone could ever hope for. One no-one deserved more.
Bren stayed with us, in his chair, all morning — his mum, his kids, me, our sisters and nieces were all there. We sat with him in the lounge room, chatting over a cuppa and taking great care of his body, just like he had his whole life — until the wonderful people from Beckers Funeral Home came to begin his journey home. My dad and Andy came over just after Bren passed and before everyone else arrived to freshen him up.
Andy and Bades shaved him and clipped his hair. The kids picked the clothes he would leave us in and Andy, Dad and I dressed him. A white Volkswagen transporter turned up to drive him away from our home for the last time and we released four beautiful butterflies as he left. The butterflies had been delivered to us just hours after Bren passed. An anonymous gift from someone who loved us unconditionally, I can only explain the timing of that gift as Divine as it seems they had been ordered many weeks before.
That afternoon my husband, I believe, blessed us with the most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. It hugged our house for about an hour, letting us know he had arrived safely and would never leave us.
On Thursday the 7th of September hundreds of our friends, neighbours and our wider community – #teambrendanm, joined our families to celebrate Bren’s life. Our last farewell (in a physical sense), it was a beautiful service and I think he would have loved it.
The kids and I, my sisters and many of our friends have received lots of little messages of validation and some big ones too since Bren’s passing – telling us he isn’t far away and is watching over us every day.
I love you, my beautiful husband – keep those messages and rainbows coming.
You are missed, but never forgotten and because of you my hope will always be limitless.
You’ll always be my go to guy – luv ya forever xx
somewhere over the rainbow xx
The children and I could not have cared for Bren at home without a tight-knit group of family and friends supporting us on a daily basis. You all know who you are so I won’t mention names for fear of leaving someone out. Thank you – we love you.
I will mention Bren and my sisters Sue and Deb, our brothers Mike and Andy and Teagz, Jord, Torz and (KJ from afar), Luca, Tyler, Gregg and Leilani for going above and beyond for Brendan, Tyz, Bades and I. Thank You! We love you all more than I could possibly say. xx