Nowra Relay for Life 2019

I missed blogging last week. I have three WordPress sites–two associated with co-authored books, and this one. I’m endeavouring to post in at least one of them each Wednesday, but my fledgeling routine’s been a bit derailed recently.

First, my husband has a pretty extended stay in hospital. Next, I heard that my dear friend and mentor, Jack Fisher, had passed away. Jack was my across-the-road neighbour when we first moved to Nowra. In fact, when we heard that our first house was for sale (we bought from my spouse’s colleague) we did a drive-by, even though we knew the colleague was away. She later told us that as soon as they pulled up in the driveway, Jack was over there to tell them that someone had been cruising past slowly. It was like the ultimate in Neighbourhood Watch! Jack and his lovely wife Esma were a big part of our lives when our kids were little; and I’ve often joked that my kids thought Jack and Esma were their grandparents for quite a while. Certainly they came to the kids’ parties, my son’s christening, and so on. And then, in 2004, when my daughter was in kindy at the local school around the corner and my son was just 3, I was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma. And one night I heard a knock on the door and there was Esma (who is tiny and a bit feisty), proferring a bowl of home-made soup. She told me she thought she’d seen a bald head from across the road, and why hadn’t I told her, and proceeded to tell me all about accommodation near the Wollongong hospital, and the wig library.

You see, Jack and Esma had been around this particular block a few times. I’m not sure of the final tally of Jack’s “cancer events,” as he called them, but I do know that they started in the 1980s.

With Master 3, mid-chemo treatment. Photo: Tony Coleman

In 2005, I asked the family and friends who had been so supportive if they would like to come and spend a weekend at our local showground, catching up and raising money for the Cancer Council. Jack and I had a conversation on the front lawn one day where I told him about this plan and innocently asked if he’d heard of the event. He told me that he was on the organising committee.

Relay 1
Relay 1.0: 2005. Photo credit: Tony Coleman

Turns out Jack was the father of Relay in the Shoalhaven, and the first ambassador. He served on the committee for well over a decade, and I later joined it, too. He supervised we the valued few as we made mass fruit salad at ridiculous hours of the morning. We were prone to singing,  making sometimes bawdy and often terrible jokes and being rather loud, as people who have had no sleep at all are sometimes wont to do, and Jack was our “supervisor.” Really, he spent most of his time telling other people to leave us alone, and occasionally telling us how many more rockmelons there were, or how much time we had left until the hungry hordes would arrive for breakfast. With Jack at the helm, we were always ready on time.

Jack and me in his final outing on the committee, and my final one as Chair of the local Relay for Life. Photo credit: Damian McGill, South Coast Register

Jack only stepped down from the Relay committee two years ago, at the age of 88; the same day I hung up my very large, fetching, and sunsafe hat as the Chair and handed over to the amazing Cathy Lucas. I loved and respected Jack enormously, and was always so pleased to catch up with him.

In the same week as Jack’s funeral, I had to fly interstate after the sudden death of my uncle and godfather, another man whom I loved dearly and who taught me so much about what is important in life: family, laughter, speaking your truth, and never refusing a social drink. When you combine these two losses, an unwell husband, my usual busy life and some unexpected stuff at work, it was not a great week or so. But I had amazing support from my friends and colleagues, because the thing about regional people is: they step up, and they always seek to find solutions. A colleague picked my son up from work so that I could make it to the hospital–over an hour away–during visiting hours. Meetings were moved to accommodate my suddenly fluid work week. Texts were sent to make sure I was doing OK and asking for help when needed.

This weekend, we were back at Relay. The weather was pretty rugged, but we soldiered on, found the humour, and kept everyone safe, even as things that were not supposed to be airborne sometimes became airborne. I’m no longer on the committee officially, but after all these years, I step in and help where I can. And I love being in the front office. I love sitting up beside my “Relay Mum,” Denise, in the middle of the night, and talking life, politics, the universe, and everything. I love that in the emotional moments, the committee members will notice and hug each other, and then get back to it. I particularly love that my children (who now live in Wollongong), will turn up every year and be there. In fact, my daughter was thanked in the program this year for her support, because the Chair figured that she would turn up, and knew that whilever she was there, she’d be helping.

Our “Hope” sign, courtesy of  IJED Electrical & Pearce and Percy Construction – Photo Credit: Nowra Relay for Life

During the Twilight ceremony, my daughter wept openly as she saw photos of both Jack and another committee member, Pud, whom we lost a few years ago. I had a moment of pure mother guilt, that I had inadvertently brought this grief into her life. With some sleep and some clarity, today I can see the blessings and pride in knowing that I brought these wonderful people into her life, and yes, we may now be grieving for them, but the wonder is that we had them in our lives for the time that we did. This past weekend pretty much sums up what I love about both regional living, and the Relay for Life: both involve caring for each other, stepping up, being resourceful, and being hopeful.

To my fellow Relayers: rest up today. We’ve earned it. See you on the track next year.

If you’d like to know more about our family’s experience with cancer, my daughter has written about it here. (You can also make online donations via this link).

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