Vassie's Story

My Father Nicholas

My father Nicholas

On the 21st of January 2013, the day of my sisters 41st birthday, our Dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. I was holidaying in Hawaii with my husband and baby daughter Zoe who was 14 months at the time, and was six months pregnant to my second daughter.

As they say, one phone call can change your life, and this is exactly what happened in our lives. I called my sister in Australia to wish her a Happy Birthday, and asked how dad was doing after he had taken some tests for abdominal pains he had been experiencing from before Christmas. As soon as I asked my sister the question about the test results, I could tell from her long and awkward pause that the news was not good...

Hearing that Dad had a tumour in his Pancreas the size of a 20 cent coin, and some smaller tumours had metastasised to his liver, was like running a spear directly through my heart. I remember my knees going weak, feeling a cold rush of blood throughout my body and feeling short of breath. It was without question that our family returned home early from our trip, to be by Dads side and united with our family back at home during this time of uncertainty.

Dad had been experiencing some stomach and abdominal pains for a few months beforehand, however put off being tested before Christmas, as he wanted to focus on preparing our big Greek family feast for Christmas Day which he was renown for, and then had planned to check himself out.

From all of our family friends, our Dad was always the fittest, the healthiest, and had a massive zest for life! Finding out that he was sick was a shock for all of us, as he was the last person we would have expected getting sick, as he was so mentally and physically strong. When Dad received his results he was told he only had 3 months to live and it was unlikely he would make it past Easter.

Like any challenge presented to him, Dad took this one on fighting. He asked to start chemotherapy immediately and was prepared to try anything to give him more time. Dad commenced two types of chemotherapies, firstly the commonly used Gemcitabine followed by Abraxane. The Abraxane chemo started to show very positive signs in reducing the size of the tumours. At the time, Abraxane was not listed on the PBS, and consequently cost $15K to access. The price was irrelevant, it was showing positive signs. Dad endured 13 rounds of chemotherapy, never once during this time complaining. Unfortunately though the disease was terminal, and time was running out.

During his ordeal, being the amazing man he was, he was still teaching us things, and we were still learning from this great man. He demonstrated to us the need for hope, belief and courage, which helped make the initial shock, denial and anger slowly subside. We would tell him all the time that we were so proud of him, as he faced the biggest challenge of his life. Dad had no real regrets, he always had above average outcomes, and regarding his illness he said “that’s life.”

Throughout this process, Dad had accepted his fate and surrendered to the fact that he would be leaving us. However right up until the end he selflessly ensured that everyone and everything was looked after even finalising tax returns the week before he passed (a true accountant) and making sure that my mum, sister and I were looked after in every way. He would not rest, until he knew everything and everyone had been taken care of. That’s just how special he was.

On the 18th of April my daughter Olivia was born. This was a special time for our family, as not only had Dad already outlived the 3 month timeframe the doctors had told him he had to live, however he got to meet yet another of his grandchildren. He was the best Pappou to Xavier, Alisha, Zoe and Olivia, and this was the most heartbreaking part for all of us that he was going to miss out on watching them grown up, they were his crowning glory. However, we were blessed that he met Olivia, and also saw her being baptised a few months later in August.

As sad and devastating it was watching Dad in pain, and slowly being taken away, we were blessed and lucky enough to tell him every day that we loved him. We were able to hold him, hug him, and communicate with him right up until the end. We made the most of the last eight months, making every day count. This was truly a blessing which we do not take for granted.

What makes us smile is that Dad lived the way he died, humble, always looking after the next person, and even in his last moments he was still able to see the funny side of leaving the earth.

Dad wanted to plan his own funeral, and when doing so a month before he passed, he found the perfect location of where he wanted to be buried and have his final ceremony. When chatting to the funeral coordinator of the venue, true to form he was cracking jokes, and said to the lady “I love this venue for my funeral, I want to book it in …. I just can’t confirm the date!”

On Father’s Day, Sunday 1st of September 2013, after 9 months Dad lost his battle.

My Dad was and will always be the biggest inspiration in my life, my teacher, my idol, my hero. He was such a kind, thoughtful, giving, supportive and wonderful man. Every single thought that I personally have of my dad is a positive one, which brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. I could list a million of my memories and all the funny things he has said and done, but the greatest gift a man and father can give is love, and that is what we will miss the most. He made us all feel so loved, all of the time.

A quote from an Old Italian philosopher called Seneca helps me remember my dad, which reads … “There is something to be learned from a great man, even when he is silent ….”

He will be forever missed, forever loved, and never ever forgotten.

From here, it is my family’s commitment to support the journey, mission and vision of the Avner’s Foundation in breaking through the progress of Pancreatic Cancer survivors by 2020 and beyond.