By Gillian Batt, Director of Cancer Information Support Services, Cancer Council NSW
Sometimes it takes a serious illness to highlight what’s truly important. As we live our lives, myself included, we get stuck in the daily rigmarole; the silly arguments, the grind and routine. Then BAM – something happens to make us question and reassess our lives. Something happens to make us desperately cling onto our loved ones and never want to let go.
In my profession, I see quite a bit of this. Cancer, after all, can bring great clarity. It strips us bare and can focus us on the things that matter.
Two months ago, after a long battle with cancer, Kristian Anderson, a typical bloke in his mid 30’s, passed away leaving a legacy worth thinking about.
For those of you who don’t know the story, Kristian shot to fame when he made this video for his wife Rachel, thanking her for the support and to simply say “I love you”. Cameos by Hugh Jackman and the beautiful sentiment of the video caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey. The video was passed on, shared, cried over and talked about. You could say the power of social media was harnessed for good.
As Kristian underwent the cancer journey, according to his blog he started taking stock of his life.
When I was first diagnosed, once the sting from that initial slap had died down, I started taking stock of my life. Those first few weeks before I started chemotherapy, before I knew if I had a chance, before I knew if my body would respond to the chemical onslaught… I began to consider what might be said of me should my end be sooner rather than later. If my life was a shout from a cliff top somewhere… what would the echo sound like?
After all, when facing your own mortality, the things that really matter come to the fore. Reading through this inspiring yet heart wrenching blog, one thing was clear, Kristian’s wife Rachel and two young boys, Jakob and Cody, were his priority and focus.
For many cancer patients I have worked with or had the privilege to meet, the importance of connection and being able to say what you mean is paramount. It’s about spending quality time with your family, your friends and the people you love. Because unfortunately for some of us, it doesn’t always last and so it is important to make every moment count.
Kristian also decided to use his popularity to make a positive change and concentrated on talking to men about cancer risks and looking after their health. His interviews on Sydney radio station program, Triple M The Grill Team, which encouraged people to call our Helpline, resulted in over 150 calls over two days from men wanting to know more about their cancer risks and overall health. Anyone working in health knows how difficult it is to get men to talk about their health and this was a tremendous achievement. It also shows that contrary to popular opinion, men do care about their health and want to talk about it, when prompted.
But as I mentioned earlier, Kristian also left another legacy worth thinking about. He reminded us to connect with what’s important, our family and the people we love. He said to The Grill Team:
More than anything, take care of your health, but on top of that… Love your family.
Love your missus, or your partner, and your kids, because you don’t know how many days you’ve got.
Don’t ever leave home angry at your spouse, or your partner, or your kids. Because you might not ever get a chance to say ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that.’
For the guys, I know it’s a big thing for guys to give their kids stuff… but if you have to go, your kids aren’t going to remember the stuff you gave them, they’re going to remember you.
So give them yourself. Give them your time. More than anything, spending time together is what matters.
These are Kristian’s words, not mine. But I believe in these words there is something for us all.