I can still vividly recall the day my wife Lynne told me she had cancer. It was over the Anzac Day weekend in April 1999. Although it was a shock I didn’t really accept the fact that it was life threatening. During our 34 years of marriage there had been many challenges, but together we had always triumphed. This was just another challenge over which we would once again triumph.
Abdominal pain followed by a positive pap smear revealed she had endometrial cancer, one form of cancer that enjoys a very high recovery rate. She underwent immediate surgery followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. At the conclusion of her treatment the prognosis was excellent and we resumed our life, albeit, with a different set of priorities.
We set out in 2000 to do many of the things Lynne had intended to do in her life but had continually deferred because of more pressing priorities. We attended the 2000 Olympics as the grateful guests of Telstra and enjoyed front row seats for the opening ceremony. This year also saw the marriage of our eldest daughter and yet somehow we still managed to fit in such experiences as parasailing, jet skiing, Sydney Harbour Bridge climbs and numerous other items on Lynne’s to do list.
A Story of Courage
Lynne was a dedicated nurse, commencing her training at the earliest age she could after leaving school. It was something about which she was passionate. Her nursing colleagues described her in part by saying that to “Do a Lynne King” was to do the work of two nurses in half the time. She continued nursing right up until six months prior to her death, only taking a few years off to raise our two daughters. The last twenty years of her nursing career was in the palliative care ward of Westmead hospital, where nursing patients with cancer was an everyday event.
She was unfortunate in that she reacted badly to chemotherapy and on most occasions required hospitalisation. She would spend the first week in hospital and the second recovering. In the third week one would have thought she might have enjoyed the reprieve and conserved the little energy she had left in anticipation of the next treatment the following week. But not Lynne! She would say, “I want things to be as normal as possible”, as she set off for work wearing her tell-tale turban. When she might say to patients, “I know how you feel” they would respond with, “You most certainly do!” To many patients she was an inspiration.
In May 2002 her back and abdominal pain returned and she was diagnosed with an inoperable paraortic metastatic lesion. Despite being told by the radiotherapist to expect a negative result, once again she came through triumphant. She always attributed this favourable result to the incredible support and faith she received from her family. I put it down to her indomitable will and her spiritual belief.
Given two close calls she decided that I had to learn to take care of myself in the event that one day she might not be around. The first step in the process apparently was to teach me the finer points of shopping, so we set off for the supermarket. I received the benefit of her many years of shopping experience. She warned me against being fooled by the word ‘special’ and that I should always divide the price by the contents and comparison check it. Always take stock from the back of the shelf to ensure the longest expiry date. I realised after thirty minutes of instruction that there was more to it than just grabbing stock from the shelves. I wondered whether the merchandising people had any idea that Lynne was onto them.
A Fighter until the End
She completed the volunteer course in 2003 and enjoyed it immensely. It gave her the chance to give something back and was hopeful that people she met and spoke with received some benefit in the way she had when she started. Typical of Lynne she was always looking for ways that others might benefit from her misfortunes.
Following a severe bout of pneumonia at the end of December 2003, a scan in January 2004 showed the cancer had returned. She once again commenced chemotherapy but by June it was clear that it was not achieving the desired result. She commenced an alternative type of chemotherapy in August 2004. On the morning of the 1st November that year I took her to North Shore Hospital for what was to be a routine chemotherapy treatment. Unfortunately she was destined to never leave hospital again. She was admitted that afternoon for treatment to help control her pain, which by now was unbearable.
On the 23rd November she was transferred to a palliative care hospital where she died on the 7th March 2005.
We would have celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary that coming November.
She put up a courageous fight right until the end of her life. She never gave up the belief that she could beat it, even when the odds became too great to ignore. During her six year battle she was never heard to complain. She remarked to me on one occasion that she once thought, “Why me” and then thought, “Why not”.
A Woman of Resilience
The staff that cared for her in palliative care said that she never complained for anything. Yet on every occasion that they did something for her, no matter how trivial the task, it would always elicit a “thank you” from Lynne.
One of her attending doctors returned from a weeks holiday on the day Lynne died. By this stage Lynne’s communications had been reduced to “blinking” to indicate her pain as words had become too exhausting and came with too much effort. The doctor said to me later, “Lynne is amazing! I asked her how she was feeling and she said she was very tired. She then summoned the strength to ask me if I had enjoyed my holiday”.
In the January of 2005, although bed ridden, she insisted on attending her younger daughter’s wedding in a wheel chair. She joined me at the altar to give our daughter away and then attended the wedding breakfast, where she stayed until the end. She then told the doctors that she intended to stay around to celebrate her first grandchild’s 1stBirthday at the end of January. She did!
Lynne’s Life made a Difference
She baffled the medical fraternity with her courage, determination and sheer will power. Her indomitable spirit and love for family saw her life extend far beyond the most optimistic predictions. At a stage when one doctor considered her condition should have rendered her unconscious, Lynne was still sitting up in bed doing what became affectionately known as “Holding Court”. She didn’t know the meaning of the word quit and battled to her last breath to stay with us. Not because she feared where she was going but simply because she didn’t want to leave what she had.
Lynne possessed that ‘X’ factor that caused people to gravitate to her and feel comfortable and at ease in her company. She always wore a smile and regardless of how busy she might be herself, always made time for you.
She spent her life caring about others. Even throughout her own cancer journey her attention was always focused on what it was doing to her family and those around her rather than the impact it was having on herself. She was our guiding light. How we will navigate life’s path without her is anyone’s guess. However, be assured that we will always try to do it with the same dignity, determination and courage that she demonstrated throughout her life and none more than at the end of it.
She considered herself one of the more fortunate compared to so many she had nursed throughout her life. These were the people battling cancer without the benefit of family support or the financial capacity to always afford the very best level of care. I too witnessed such cases while caring for Lynne. For this reason I and my daughters considered the best way to honour Lynne was to carry on in some way the work she had performed all her life in caring for others.
The Lynne King Cancer Care Foundation is committed to caring for those whose circumstances make their cancer journey less comfortable than it could be. We hope to make a difference.
Thank you for taking the time to share our story.