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A Story from Chris Goodman...
In January of 2014 Chris’ husband Pete was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer. Chris and her family’s reaction was one of shock and devastation as Pete had previously been so healthy and they had always thought he would live to be 100. Instead, they were advised that he had about 2- 6 months to live (without treatment) and the only hope was chemotherapy.
Defying the odds, Pete lived for 15 months (double the average life expectancy for someone receiving Pete’s treatment regimen), making the most of the time he had left with his family, creating memories and continuing to work towards his goals in his hobbies and community engagement. Chris generously shared with us some of the memories they created and what she had learnt from the experience.
Enjoying time together
Chris and Pete made the most of the time off chemo each month, planning and booking short trips. This gave them something to look forward to and provided distraction from Pete’s treatment. After 3 months of intensive chemotherapy Pete and Chris travelled to Canada and Alaska, which Chris described as “the highlight of our year, with anything after that considered a bonus.”
Over the 12 months post-diagnosis Chris and Pete also travelled to Ballarat in Victoria, Victor Harbour in South Australia, Coolangatta Qld, Tweed Heads, Stanwell Park, Kurrajong Heights, Mona Vale, Watsons Bay, Mosman, Manly, Maroubra, Coogee, Clovelly, Sydney Harbour cruises, Parramatta & Olympic Park, Eveleigh, Darling Harbour, Grays Point, Gymea Bay, Wingello and Gosford, as well as several trips to places along the Georges River. Apart from these, Pete travelled with his Dad or with friends to Cowra, Guyra, Lithgow, Thirlmere, Taren Point and outback Queensland in the latter part of 2014. These trips provided Chris with plenty of material to create photo books, which are now precious reminders of their time together, something she can have forever. Chris reflected:
“I just felt incredibly lucky that we got 12 months of quality time. He worked on all his projects, and I felt that compared to other patients we knew that he was really lucky.”
What has Chris learnt from her experience?
When asked what she had learnt along the way, Chris’ immediate reaction was “I have learnt a lot!” The key lessons included:
- How to be more self-reliant “I had to learn and figure out how to do things myself, how to stand on my own two feet .. I found new strengths and capabilities I didn’t think I had.”
- To stay connected with others, even if that means communicating in different ways. For example, Chris sent out a monthly update via email, which helped keep people informed while cutting down the number of phone calls they had to field. Chris commented that she received lots of positive feedback from these messages, that staff at her old workplace would pin them on the notice board and that people certainly noticed if they were late sending them out.
- To do lots of reading, learn the medical jargon and be open to information from lots of places and people.
- “I learnt to appreciate time and life and friends and family more than ever … when that is limited you make the most of things and use time wisely.”
- The value of diet and lifestyle changes which helped to balance the impact of treatment and to enhance quality of life.
- To ask questions and keep a track of results so that you can be an advocate for your loved one and know what is going on or how the condition is changing.
- To listen to your loved one, “they know their limits”.
Chris’ advice for other carers
Chris supported Pete with amazing strength and love, however she recognised that the caring role brought with it a whole range of challenges – just as well Chris commented “I like a challenge!” She recommends to other carers to keep their other interests alive and to look after themselves, including ensuring you have time out for self.
“We each had our own space … I did things that I wanted to do because otherwise it would be all encompassing and you’d suffocate. If you were just caring and just being a patient, then it just takes over your life.”
Chris also talked about her life after Pete’s passing, highlighting the challenge of visiting places associated with Pete’s treatment and the need to continue to feel useful. She shared a fabulous strategy for making sure her days have meaning and purpose, trying to make sure she completes an activity each day that:- helps someone else, sees her socialise with others, involves some house and yard work, gets her out of the house, involves planning for the future, uses her creative side and involves some self-care and exercise.
At CONCERT, we are exceptionally grateful for Chris’ ongoing support and the generosity of spirit that she shows to the researchers at CONCERT. We hope that sharing her story provides some insight to others of the experience of partners while caring for their loved ones with cancer.
And a final message from Chris: “Make a bucket list before you need one and never give up until you have no choice.”
Hear Chris speak about Pete in this video which you can download and play.