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Losing a Parent to Cancer and Finding a Place to Heal

By - 15th October 2012

From left to right - Morgan, Maree, Allan, Taylah: family photo at Noosa last year. Allan had finished two rounds of brain surgery and the family were  celebrating.
Reproduction of image not permitted
By Melinda Hutchings*  Maree’s husband, Allan, died earlier this year after battling brain cancer, throwing her world into turmoil and disrupting the lives of her two young daughters as they struggled to cope with the fear and devastation of losing their father, and the uncertainty this meant for their future.

Allan was a very strong person,” says Maree. “When he was diagnosed, he spent his time renovating the house while having chemo and radiation. His gift to us was doing up the house before he died."  Talking about the unpredictability of the disease, Maree explains, "It was awful, because at one stage we thought he had beaten it; and then it spread to his brain.  He had the tumours removed but suffered a bleed on his brain.  They opened him up and it had gone everywhere. Because the cancer affected his brain, his speech started deteriorating. Towards the end, it was hard for all of us to watch him go from being competent and able-bodied to mentally impaired."

After 32 years together, Maree says the hardest part since Allan's passing is learning to be a family of three. "It’s still really hard. You just get up every day, and every day is a new day. You just appreciate what each day brings. You don’t regret anything you’ve done. You just look forward. I have learned to look for something good in everyday...even when I’m having the worst day. Some days I wonder what else I could bear, but I always hold the mantra of ‘tomorrow is a new day’ – and it is."

Maree worries about how Morgan and Taylah feel when they see her upset, and communicates honestly with them. "I tell them it's okay to have a rollercoaster of emotions, it's even okay to still have fun."  

Maree used to  worry that Morgan wouldn’t talk about how she was feeling.  Wanting to let her girls know that they could access avenues for help other than family and friends, Maree came into contact with CanTeen, an Australian support organisation for 12 - 24 year olds who have a family member with cancer,  are living with cancer themselves, or are bereaved by cancer.  Offering a wide range of camps and programs for its young members, CanTeen aims to build a peer support network for young people facing cancer. Maree explains that Morgan feels much less alone now, knowing that there are other children her age whose parent has also died from cancer. "At CanTeen, Morgan feels safe to open up and express her feelings because she knows that the people there understand what she is going through."

Maree says she feels blessed with the support and kindness bestowed upon her family.  "I think at the end of the day children just need to know that they are loved and cherished and that we are on the ride together with all the twists and turns and hopefully we will all grow from it."

Says Maree, "Allan and I rode the path of life together sharing the good and the bad. He showed his love for us by creating our beautiful home.  His last act of love was to make our house a home and every room has a piece of him in it.  He will always be with us.”

CanTeen’s major annual event, National Bandanna Day, is taking place on Friday 26th October. During the month of October CanTeen is asking all Australians to buy and wear a bandanna to show young people that you support their fight against cancer. With the help of funds raised on National Bandanna Day, now in its 18th year, CanTeen will continue to run vital counselling and support programs as well as work to establish special youth cancer centres and services to help young people stand up to cancer. 

For more information:  www.bandannaday.com.au or call 1800 226 833.

*Melinda Hutchings is the National Media and Communications Manager for Canteen.

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