The year that was…

No Comments

Was that only a week ago?

We’re debriefing on World Pancreatic Cancer Day 2017 and we’re still pinching ourselves that it all actually happened.

When we started #PurpleOurWorld, we wrote down our goals…

  • Light a major icon up in purple, for example Sydney Opera House
  • Convince a corporate organisation to turn their website purple for the month of November
  • Get Messina to create a purple ice cream flavour
  • Have a sports team on board
  • Partner with a sporting event

Let’s start with that first one, shall we? We thought it was a pipe-dream. Something that would take years, a decade even, to get done.

#PurpleOurWorld was founded in October 2014. It’s November 2017, just three years later. And those beautiful, spectacular, famous sails of the Sydney Opera House turned purple for pancreatic cancer.

Of course, we didn’t do this on our own.

When we first sat down with our fellow members of the Pancreatic Cancer Alliance in July 2015, we mentioned our goal of lighting up the Sydney Opera House. And together we got it done. We can’t speak highly enough of our fellow members of the Alliance and we’re honoured to be working alongside such incredible charities and researchers who are doing such brilliant things in the pancreatic cancer space.

Watching the sails turn purple was truly a ‘pinch me’ moment. Of course, our minds turned to Rochelle. And while we would give anything to have her with us, lighting up the Opera House in her memory, and all those we have lost, is a fitting tribute. We’re not quite sure how we top this next year.

And then we turn to the rest of the list.

World Pancreatic Cancer Day was backed by Ramsay Health Care in Australia and Westfield around the world. If you were walking through a Westfield in Australia, you may have been part of the 1.5 million people to see the graphics displayed on the screen. In the US and UK, graphics were displayed in all Westfield centres, including the World Trade Centre. What a sight that was!

We also thank the Qantas Cabin Crew Cancer Support Group who supported our cause on their social media pages and Todae Solar who turned their website and LinkedIn pages purple.

And for the third year in a row, Gelato Messina created a #PurpleOurWorld flavour – a resounding (and delicious) success.

After the high of the Opera House on the eve of World Pancreatic Cancer Day, we turned our attention to the day itself. And we watched as Federal and State Ministers shared posts of support on social media, including The Hon. Greg Hunt (Federal Minister for Health), The Hon. Brad Hazzard (NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research) and The Hon. David Elliott (NSW Minister for Counter Terrorism, Corrections and Veterans Affairs). And we were wowed when the Members of NSW Parliament wore purple ribbons during the NSW Legislative Assembly Question Time. So fitting considering Sydney, NSW kicked off the global World Pancreatic Cancer Day campaign.

And then, we turned our attention to the rest of the world as Niagara Falls, Trafalgar Square, Madison Square Garden and LAX (among others) turned purple. We saw newsreaders, actors and social media influencers speak openly on social media, wearing purple to Demand Better for pancreatic cancer.

We truly saw the global effort.

As Julie Fleshman, President and CEO of PanCAN, US and Chair of the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition said, we painted the world purple!

A few thanks from us here at #PurpleOurWorld.

  • Thanks to Ramsay Health Care, Westfield, the Qantas crew, Todae Solar and Gelato Messina.
  • To Quay Restaurant and the Fink Group, for an incredible function to celebrate the sails of the Sydney Opera House turning purple. Thank you also to the lovely Peter Overton for being a tremendous MC and sharing such beautiful stories about the late Peter Harvey.
  • To the Federal and State ministers, thank you for bringing attention to pancreatic cancer.
  • To Shareable Apps for creating and updating our #PurpleOurWorld app. To keep up with everything #PurpleOurWorld, text PURPLE to 0400 813 813 or email PURPLE to
  • To our amazing ambassadors, Tracey Spicer and Robbie Farah – thank you for your invaluable support.
  • Thank you to our charity partners and fellow Pancreatic Cancer Alliance members – Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, GI Cancer Institue and Pancare Foundation – we are in awe of the work you do. Thank you also to Karen Livingstone and Tracey Spicer for the work they do with the Alliance.
  • And finally, to you… our family, our community. Thank you for helping us paint the world purple.

Bring on 2018!


NRL teams to support pancreatic cancer awareness

No Comments

Wests Tigers and the Canberra Raiders will be wearing #PurpleOurWorld socks to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer when they clash at Leichhardt Oval this Sunday, September 4.

The Wests Tigers have been personally affected by pancreatic cancer with Robbie Farah, our #PurpleOurWorld ambassador, sadly losing his mother in 2012 after she battled the disease for less than a year.

Additionally, for the second year, the St George Illawarra Dragons will be wearing #PurpleOurWorld socks during their final round match against the Newcastle Knights at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah on Saturday, September 3.

The St George Illawarra Dragons have been personally affected by pancreatic cancer with halfback Benji Marshall losing his father seven years ago.

Awareness of pancreatic cancer, long-understood as a silent killer, has been minimal, despite high profile people such as Patrick Swayze, Steve Jobs, Ian Ross and Peter Harvey being diagnosed with, and passing away from the disease.

Yet, in 2016, more than 3000 cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in Australia. It’s projected that over 2800 people will not survive.[1]


  • Around the world more than 330,000 people will die from pancreatic cancer each year.
  • Only 6.8% of patients live beyond five years after diagnosis. This number has only slightly improved over the past 30 years.
  • Pancreatic cancers are the fifth most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Australia.
  • Pancreatic cancer receives less than 2% of overall cancer research funding.
  • The average survival is just six months.

#PurpleOurWorld, together with Wests Tigers, the Canberra Raiders and St George Illawarra Dragons are hoping to change these statistics.

If you’re heading to the game, pop on some purple and help us spread the word and don’t forget to use the hashtag #PurpleOurWorld!

Purchase tickets to Wests Tigers v Canberra Raiders

Purchase tickets to St George Illawarra Dragons v Newcastle Knights

Upcoming dates for your diaries

  • November – Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
  • 17 November – World Pancreatic Cancer Day

[1] Cancer Australia,

World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition Presentation

No Comments

Today, Jess from #PurpleOurWorld was fortunate enough to share the #PurpleOurWorld story at the inaugural World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition meeting. She also spoke about the formation of the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Alliance and how it’s going to help further the pancreatic cancer cause in Australia. Here’s her presentation (Slides are available to download here).

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Jessica and I’m the Co-Founder of #PurpleOurWorld. I’m also one of three representatives for the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Alliance here today.

I’m here to talk mainly about the Alliance, however for you to fully understand the Australian collaboration, it’s necessary that I give you a bit of background to #PurpleOurWorld.

In March 2013, my mother Rochelle Goulburn was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Sixteen months, 13 rounds of chemotherapy, 10 intensive days of radiation, multiple drains to remove excess fluid, multiple hospital stays, and many family milestones later, including my wedding, my mum passed away at home surrounded by almost 30 members of our extended family. She was only 57 years old.

That was August 2014. By October, our family had decided we needed to do something to raise awareness of the disease that had taken our loved one too soon.

As a family, we were completely blindsided when my mum was diagnosed. We knew very little about the pancreas itself, never mind pancreatic cancer. So we set out to learn as much as we could, while at the same time trying to get our community involved with some awareness efforts.

Our initial campaign was simple, wear something purple on World Pancreatic Cancer Day and share a picture on social media, using the hashtag #PurpleOurWorld. Our overwhelming success proved the power of social media. With only three weeks and a shareable message, we were amazed by how many people took part, including numerous journalists, and sports and media personalities. Our little backyard operation to honour our wife, mum, sister and nana had turned into much more than a simple gesture. It went global. So we decided we had to take #PurpleOurWorld to the next level.

We began talks with prominent Australian personalities, journalist Tracey Spicer and Australian football player, Robbie Farah, both of whom lost their mothers to pancreatic cancer. Robbie’s grief in particular was very public as he lost his mum in the middle of the football season. They became our inaugural ambassadors.

Well, while 2014 was an incredible success, 2015 went above and beyond. We secured partnerships with Australian charities, received national coverage when two football teams wore #PurpleOurWorld socks during their game against each other and managed to get major corporate organisations to share our message. These included Gelato Messina, who created a flavour sold across Australia and in Las Vegas, Australian airline Qantas, one of the top four Australian banks ANZ and one of the top five private hospital operators in the world, Ramsay Health Care. This year, we are planning to go bigger and better again and we’re already in talks with even more corporates to help champion the pancreatic cancer cause.

In fact, this week we are launching the #PurpleOurWorld app, which is shareable by text message, email or social media so we can engage with our followers on another level.

What we count as one of our biggest achievements last year, however, was helping to form the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Alliance, which was launched at NSW Parliament House by NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner.

Together with #PurpleOurWorld, the Alliance comprises of a unique collaboration of organisations and individuals, including the four major charities in Australia who work in the field of pancreatic cancer: the Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, Pancare Foundation, both of which are represented here today, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the GI Cancer Institute. Other members include pancreatic cancer activist, Karen Livingstone. The Australian government is also represented through Cancer Australia and Australian media personality and #PurpleOurWorld ambassador, Tracey Spicer is the Patron.

The Australian Pancreatic Cancer Alliance is committed to raising awareness of pancreatic cancer, with a long-term view of supporting much needed medical research into the disease. In Australia, pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related deaths. While each organisation carries out its own awareness initiatives and fundraising activities, we work together on some parts of the boarder puzzle.

We meet on a monthly basis, whether via teleconference or in person. A Communications Strategy outlining the opportunities for the Alliance 2016-2020 is being finalised to ensure sustainable activities are developed and delivered while meeting defined objectives, and a yearly timeline has been developed so each organisation is aware of what is happening with the others. This is updated as required. We then share information about each other’s initiatives to broaden the network. Additionally, when we can, we also support each other’s initiatives in person. For example, the Avner Foundation holds fundraising walks throughout Australia and where possible, we go along, taking as many people as we can with us.

The idea is collaboration rather than competition. We strongly believe that by working together, we will be much more powerful, especially when dealing with high profile stakeholders and government bodies.

One of our projects this year is to create a Parliamentary Friends Group for pancreatic cancer. In Australia, this is a way to channel information through to Members of Parliament. The groups bring together politicians from all different backgrounds and political parties, and help raise awareness of community issues. Our hope is that by forming a pancreatic cancer friends group, we can find politicians with an interest in furthering knowledge, awareness and funding for the disease, who will then pass this on to their respective communities.

We feel that the reason the Alliance works so well is that each individual organisation has something new and different to bring to the table, whether it’s awareness, research, clinical trials, patient care or fundraising. Whichever organisation’s initiative is in the spotlight at any given time, largely defines the audience, whether it’s doctors, patients, government officials, families, carers or the public. Generally though, our audience is pretty broad – anyone who will listen.

Less than a year since it’s official launch, and although the Alliance is still in its infancy, we know that as a cohesive group we will be able to achieve a lot more than if we worked individually. Our outlook is positive and we’re determined to make a difference.

Mother’s Day Candle


CandleIt’s our strong belief that scent can evoke memories and emotions, even when you least expect it.

When it comes to Rochelle, it’s hard to go past her favourite perfume – Issey Miyake. Combine that with the smell of fresh lillies as their buds open, and it’s almost like she’s wandering through the house again.

It’s for this reason we decided to team up with Clare from bbe boutique to create a candle that’s uniquely Rochelle. Something we can light in our homes and be reminded of her boisterous laugh, warm smile, booming voice and loving nature. We can be enveloped in her affectionate hugs and reminisce of days gone by.

For all of us at #PurpleOurWorld, Mother’s Day is a strong reminder that Rochelle is no longer with us. And while we miss her every day, the one special day that celebrates mothers everywhere is just that little bit harder. This year, we decided to bring a little bit of joy back to the day, by sharing our memories with you.

We hope this serves as a reminder to hold your mum a bit tighter and tell her just how much you love her, that she’s worth spoiling, not just today but everyday, and that you really don’t know what you’d do without her.

Wishing all the mothers a very happy Mother’s Day and for those missing a piece of their life puzzle, we hope you find the strength to get through the day, and that you find a way to smile as you remember your wonderful mums.

The #PurpleOurWorld candle can be purchased online:

Please note, candles can be posted or picked up from Mosman or Rose Bay (NSW).
A big thanks to Clare for her tireless work on this special project.

GRF_CMYKAll proceeds from the candle will be donated to pancreatic cancer research at the Garvan Research Foundation.

And that’s a wrap

No Comments

Wow, what a day!

Thank you to everyone for embracing the #PurpleOurWorld concept and popping on some purple for such a worthwhile cause.

In the current climate, we’re  asked to wear a different colour almost every single day for all the incredible causes out there. And even though it is such a simple and easy thing to do, we know it can get tiresome to be doing it so often.

So what makes us different? Well we’ve got plenty of reasons. But the main one, we believe, is that it’s time for the spotlight to shine on pancreatic cancer. And on Friday, you helped us achieve that.

We were absolutely blown away by the amount of purple flooding Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Seeing strangers wearing our #PurpleOurWorld merchandise and newsreaders in Philadelphia tagging us on Twitter were definite highlights.

And while it was amazing to see the uptake of people sharing their pictures on social media, it was the big brands that got behind us as well that made all the more difference.

Thank you to Qantas, ANZ, Pearsons Florist, Prevention Magazine, Ramsay Health Care, Goldman Travel and Todae Solar for sharing our cause internally and on social media.

To Gelato Messina, the flavour was absolutely delicious. Nothing could wipe the smiles off our faces as we saw the Likes and Shares climbing on your posts. We got an absolute kick out of seeing our cause on your chalkboards and we are so appreciative of everyone who went out and bought a scoop (or a couple of litres).

To the people who gave so generously of their time and resources to make our breakfast so special, thank you!

  • Tooti from Events to a T – thanks for coming at the crack of dawn to set up. Your ability to bring our collaborative vision to life is astounding.
  • Neat Floral – thank you for choosing our beautiful flowers.
  • Hana from Sweet Layerz – the cupcakes were delicious and looked absolutely spectacular.
  • Nadine Saacks Photography – thank you for capturing our morning so beautifully.
  • Justin from Mugg Shot Coffee – thank you for keeping us caffeinated and for your exceptional service.
  • Bar Doppio – thank you for donating some of the food and supplies.

Thank you also to the shops that graciously displayed balloons and signs.

To our Ambassadors, Tracey Spicer and Robbie Farah, and our charity partners – Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, Garvan Research Foundation, GI Cancer Institute and Pancare Foundation – thank you for your support. We can’t wait to continue our work together.

And finally, thank you again to all of you. Whether it was sharing your story, raising money for our charity partners or wearing purple to raise much-needed awareness, without you, we couldn’t be doing the work we’re doing.

Thank you for backing us and thank you for giving all of our loved ones the voice they deserve.

Here’s to next year!

The #PurpleOurWorld Team


Craig’s Gutsy Challenge

No Comments

CraigFather of four, Data Architect, marathon runner, triathlete … is there anything Craig Pager can’t do?

He’s about to tick off climbing Mount Kilimanjaro as well.

And he’s doing it for a cause close to his heart.

“My dad successfully fought myelodysplasia, which attacked his bone marrow, however this led to leukaemia. He also fought off prostate cancer for ten years. In the end, he succumbed to pancreatic cancer just six months after officially been diagnosed,” Craig explains.

FullSizeRenderOn top of that, a work colleague also passed away from pancreatic cancer within the same year as his dad.

“Pancreatic cancer really has no mercy.”

An all-round fit guy, Craig was the perfect choice to represent #PurpleOurWorld.

“Exercise and a healthy lifestyle are an essential part of my daily routine. My week consists of running between 70km to 115km, swimming between 2.5km to 10km and road cycling between 50km to 300km.” Sounds easy right?

A family man, Craig understands the way the disease touches the entire extended family. Just one week before his dad’s passing, Craig’s first cousin’s mother-in-law, Rochelle Goulburn, the inspiration behind #PurpleOurWorld, passed away from the disease.

“My husband is Craig’s cousin. Knowing how fit he is and his commitment to charities, he seemed like the obvious choice for us,” Sara Kahn, Co-Founder of #PurpleOurWorld, and Rochelle’s daughter, says. “We’re really excited to share Craig’s journey with everyone and so appreciative that he has taken on the challenge.”

Craig has already completed the Sydney half marathon and will take on the Melbourne marathon in October.

He then intends to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895m) with the GI Cancer Institute’s Gutsy Challenge team. And he’s not planning on just walking.

“If all the stars align I may look at the opportunity to then run up to the top,” he says. “This will involve up to a 10-hour effort to get to the top and back down.”

And what does he hope all this climbing and running and climbing some more will achieve?

“My intention is that all these gutsy efforts lead to more awareness and importantly, funds to assist in finding a path to increase the 6% five year survival rate of pancreatic cancer.”

To help Craig get to the top, and proudly hold the #PurpleOurWorld flag up there, head to his donation page. Every amount, no matter how big or small, helps the cause.

Thank you!

No Comments

What a touching moment for us here at #PurpleOurWorld to see Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall lead their teams onto the field proudly wearing their #PurpleOurWorld socks.

It’s been an emotional couple of weeks for us, as we’ve witnessed our dream come to fruition, and nothing made us prouder than seeing the teams wearing the socks in front of more than 17,000 people at the ground and many more watching at home.

Last Thursday, as we stood side-by-side with the boys and spoke to the media about why we’re doing what we’re doing, we know our loved ones were standing right there next to us, along with everyone else who has lost their fight to pancreatic cancer.

To hear Robbie talk about his mother and Benji open up about his father almost brought us all to tears. Together, we were finally putting pancreatic cancer on the map.

In the 24 hours following, we sat glued to our television and computer screens as the story made national headlines.

On game day, we stood outside ANZ Stadium and watched as people passed us by in their splashes of purple and as our Twitter feed exploded with support. We listened as the ground announcers spoke of our cause with our logo up on the big screen.

And then we watched two friends, who’ve been through so much together, including the loss of a parent, battle it out on the field.
And boy was it a match to remember.

Thank you to everyone who made this possible.

To Robbie, Benji and both your families, your stories have already inspired others to come forward. Thank you for being so open and honest. We hope we can continue to work together to bring awareness to a disease that has touched us all so deeply.

To the Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra Dragons, thank you for agreeing to support Robbie, Benji and us. Thank you for sharing our message with your supporters.

Thank you to the Fox Sports NRL boys for wearing purple ties in support of the cause and for making sure everyone at home knew why the boys were wearing #PurpleOurWorld socks.

To the team at ANZ Stadium, thank you for having us, and all the support you provided in the lead-up to the game and on game day.

To our family and friends, your unwavering support has been incredible. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your continual encouragement, help and love.

And finally, to our supporters – thank you for coming on the journey with us.

You know you’re making a difference when a random person sees you wearing purple tops at a restaurant, turns to you and says, “pancreatic cancer? Well done.”

We can’t wait to share what’s ahead.

Media release: #PurpleOurWorld socks for pancreatic cancer

No Comments

The St George Illawarra Dragons and Wests Tigers will be wearing #PurpleOurWorld socks to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer when they clash at ANZ Stadium, Olympic Park on Saturday, September 5.

The St George Illawarra Dragons have been personally affected by pancreatic cancer with halfback Benji Marshall losing his father at an early age.

Additionally, in July 2012, captain of the Wests Tigers Robbie Farah sadly lost his mother after she battled the disease for less than a year.

Until high profile people such as Patrick Swayze, Steve Jobs, Ian Ross and Peter Harvey were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, awareness surrounding this silent killer was minimal.

Yet, in 2015, 3030 cases of pancreatic cancer have already been diagnosed in Australia. It’s projected that 2710 people will not survive.[1]


  • Around the world 330,372 people will die from pancreatic cancer each year.
  • Only 6% of patients live beyond five years after diagnosis. This number has only slightly improved over the past 40 years.
  • Pancreatic cancer is currently the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in Western societies. Within the next 10 years, it is projected to be the second highest.[2]
  • The average survival is just six months.

#PurpleOurWorld, together with the Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra Dragons are hoping to change these statistics.

If you’re heading to the game, pop on some purple and help us spread the word.

Key dates:

  • November – Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month
  • 13 November – World Pancreatic Cancer Day

For all media enquires please contact:
Jessica Abelsohn
Ph: 0417 062 543

[1] Cancer Australia,

[2] Garvan Research Foundation, Breakthroughs in Pancreatic Cancer


A bit more about #PurpleOurWorld

In August 2014, we lost a very special person. Wife, mother, nana, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, cousin and very dear friend, Rochelle Goulburn.

Rochelle defied most medical odds and fought against the disease for 16 months.

Around the time of diagnosis and throughout the past three years, we found that there was very little awareness (or funding) for pancreatic cancer.

So we decided to do something about it.

For the first World Pancreatic Cancer Day we asked everyone we could to pop on something purple and share a picture on social media using the hashtag #PurpleOurWorld.

We estimate that the number of people who took part reached about 2000 around the world. We’re hoping for more this year.

Chris Bath, Damian Ryan, Mark Ferguson and Samantha Brett shared our initiative on Twitter as did Fitzy & Wippa. Paul Murray got on board, sharing on Twitter and Facebook and wearing a purple tie on his Sky News show, Paul Murray Live. From Fox Sports, FoxCricketLive, Mark Bosnich, Tom Chadwick and Adam Peacock tweeted to their followers as did Wests Tigers Captain, Robbie Farah.

We reached New York, Chicago and Charlottesville in the US, South Africa, Singapore, London, Israel, Paris and Bali. In Australia, #PurpleOurWorld stretched to Dubbo, Armidale, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast and Newcastle, among other cities.

Since then, Wests Tigers captain, NSW Hooker and Australian representative player Robbie Farah, as well as media personality Tracey Spicer, who also lost her mother to the disease, have come on board as ambassadors. We have also partnered with the Avner Nahmani Pancreatic Cancer Foundation and GI Cancer Institute as charity partners and we’re working with several other organisations to further the pancreatic cancer cause.

Twitter: @PurpleOurWorld
Facebook: Purple Our World
Instagram: Purple Our World






#PurpleOurWorld socks for pancreatic cancer

No Comments

When we first started #PurpleOurWorld nine months ago, we had some pretty big dreams. And we mean it when we say big. We’re talking ‘take over the world’ big.

We wrote them down on our business plan, never imagining that some would actually happen in our first year.

Well, we’re ecstatic to tell you that a couple of them have and we still pinch ourselves every day when we think about it.

Not only have we managed to get two wonderful ambassadors on board in Tracey Spicer and Robbie Farah. Not only have we managed to get incredible strategic partners in the GI Cancer Institute and Avner Nahmani Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.

But, and here’s the kicker, we’ve also managed to tick off one of our huge goals – ‘get a sports team to wear purple for one round’.

Yep, you read that right.

We’re extremely excited to announce that the Wests Tigers and St George Illawarra Dragons will be wearing #PurpleOurWorld socks for their final round clash on Saturday, 5 September.

The St George Illawarra Dragons have been personally affected by pancreatic cancer with halfback Benji Marshall losing his father at an early age. And the Wests Tigers family were deeply affected when Robbie lost his mother in 2012.

Both teams have been exceptionally supportive of the cause and we look forward to working with them.

If you want to help the initiative, head to the game (decked out in purple of course) and support pancreatic cancer awareness.

We know not all of you can make it so if you can’t come in person, make sure you’re watching it live to see all the action. And remember to upload your pictures to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #PurpleOurWorld and tagging our pages.

We’ll have more to come on what’s happening around the match shortly but for now, we just couldn’t wait to share the news with you all!

Stay tuned.

Click here to purchase tickets

Letter to the surgeon



A genuine letter sent to Mr Saxon Connor (Pancreatic Surgeon, Christchurch Public Hospital) in August 2013.

Dear Mr Saxon Connor

I am writing to thank you.

I am not sure about you (or any others for that matter) but the dusty eaves of my memory carry a bank of visual bites of moments I have captured. While I’d like to think the shelves would be full of beautiful vistas or those, oh-so-ever elusive Zen-moments, I have found instead that they tend rather to be stocked with life-altering flashes, both good and bad. Not so much the outcomes that sneak up on you but the ones that are so blatantly defining that when they are happening you know life is never going to be the same again.

I have a new moment and it contains you. You, a near stranger – and my beloved mum.

Elaine BerryWe had not met until the day I came to Outpatients with Elaine Berry. We met once again the following week but I doubt, because you will not be operating on her, that we will ever meet again.  Thus I am writing to tell you how grateful I feel. As an aside, we fully endorse your strong guidance not to operate. I once read that the operation with the best outcome can be the one a surgeon decides not to do. Independence matters and your encouragement to leave my mother with hers at a time when the things she actually has left are diminishing, is appreciated.

There is another reason I am writing. I imagine you know that you make a significant difference through the art and science of surgery. You heal. And I guess there are quite tangible times that illustrate this function of your action. As I write this I ponder whether that moment is when you take your scrubs off after a successful operation, or is it when you wave farewell to a discharged patient or at some other point, perhaps when you have sliced a rogue growth into submission. Or not. I don’t profess to understand the multiplicity of healing others. In this instance, with my mother, you did not hold a scalpel but you did make a big difference. Perhaps people have not stopped to tell you about this scalpel-esque skill you possess because, if like me, once they receive the information that death is near there is so much to digest and be getting on with, looking forward and looking back, but not reflecting on the moment of actual realisation. (The time granted becomes something to make the most of – how does one live up to that?).

Perhaps I would not have written this if I had not taken time off work (allowing the clip to replay in the silence, attendant to pausing) due to this merciless strep throat that refuses to heal, its red fury unquestionably encompassing the anger I hold (just now) at the world and My Maker for planning to seize my mother.

My mother and I both dislike germs (ick), hospitals (ick), medical centres (ick), and especially germs in hospitals and medical centres (ick). Other than that I would have loved a career in medicine! My visual memory bites of Christchurch Hospital consist of being left in a small, windowless ‘viewing’ room with dirty salmon-coloured walls, faded plastic flowers and a dead family member, alarmingly cold and tucked between crisp white sheets. Wrestling with the angst of not wanting to be there to witness the person changed in death coupled with a reluctance to leave, knowing they will be wheeled back to the morgue fridge alone. It was deep in the darkness of night in that aesthetically stomach-churning room when I viewed both my grandmother and years later my father. I’ve imagined my mother’s earlier experience of being in that same room (also in the hours of darkness); the tale she shared with me about embracing her unrecognisable son Christopher who died suddenly and staggeringly of cot death before I was born. (Do I remember that story right? I must check with her before it is too late. There are so many stories to capture).

Prior to our visit with you there had been a flurry of medical appointments (more ick, my standard germ-phobic phrase when dropping my mother at the hospital doors before heading off to find a park became “Don’t lick the lift buttons!”). Cloudy moments of waiting rooms and waiting. Waiting for appointments. (Why do I bother to turn up to a medical appointment on time?) Waiting for results. Waiting a week for the next appointment to roll around. Waiting for answers. We found ourselves powerless on one of life’s conveyor belts. Little did we know yours was the grand finale of appointments on that grey wintery Christchurch day? We had begrudgingly seated ourselves among (coughing, limping, frowning) people in the waiting room, holding the little concrete information her doctor had given us and a few clues about what you were going to say to us. Sitting beside a person from the generation that doesn’t talk their worries to death, or unnecessarily about death but instead just pulls their socks up and get on with life, I inwardly hoped (maybe we both did) that you would operate and find the growths were not, luck upon luck, cancer. Hurray, we could all live happily ever after!

But, it was not to be …

However with your scalpel in your back pocket but hands still connected to heart, you healed us both in some way that day. It was your unfortunate duty to tell my mother that she has 9-12 months to live. I was blindsided by the news. I physically recoiled. I bit my lip as hard as I could, an old trusty trick to stop me crying. Those damn tears wouldn’t obey, drowning my eyes. You became blurry because I daren’t move to dry them. I didn’t want my mother to see my pain, for she wasn’t crying and I had no right to let her team down. You leaned forward and looked into what I imagine was my mother’s startled soul and were there. My clumsy simplistic words will never capture your message but the essence seemed to say ‘it is going to be okay, you’re going to be okay even though your time is near, worry yourself not’.

Your manner and your words gifted a safety net and right then and there it stopped us from dropping into a chasm. You didn’t rush us despite nightfall descending outside or push back against the emotion in the room we were choking on, but sat with it and supported us as the information sunk in. You were generous with your time and tried to find the other surgeon to talk about that other cancerous growth not as nasty or angry as the one on her pancreas. You followed my mother’s lead, her signature mark humour, and kidded that the kidney surgeon had left for the day because he was either more efficient or preferably more lax than you. The joking continued and laughter melted the fear. We put a plan together and I have no doubt you helped us crawl out of the momentary despair we both found ourselves in. You safely walked us out from shellshock to new spaces to where we needed to be to tell our loving family and march forward.

It is funny what else takes place in one’s mind at a moment like that. I suddenly realised the woman who entered the room with you (who I thought was a trainee doctor) was actually a cancer nurse.  Up until you told us it was most certainly cancer, I had not noticed the c-word stamped on her name badge, and her lanyard and her face. CANCER. CANCER. CANCER.  Gulp, gulp, gulp. In the car on the way home my mother told me that at that same time I was working that out, she was reading the label on the chest of your scrubs. Despite it saying CH-CH Hospital Outpatients, the fabric fell and folded in a way that the letters seemed to read, ‘OH-OH Hospital Outpatients’. ‘Oh, Oh, alright!’ she remarked. We laughed and it became a family story.

When I was a teen my grandmother underwent a huge operation. Until the day she died she had a photo of the surgeon in a frame. A stranger to us yet his picture took pride of place. With things still to be done before she could go I think she was saying to her saviour, ‘I owe you the sight of the morning’. Even though you couldn’t offer an extended life to my mother, my interpretation is that you supported her inner strength to come to the fore enabling us to see that her last days can be filled with sincerity, connection and humour. It is almost like you helped build a splendid framework for how we could bravely go forward into our respectively altered lives – the new lives which started from that exact moment of time, before we stepped out of Christchurch Hospital’s doors and into winter’s dusk.

My ever-resilient mother has a goal. She wants to outlive the timeframe you have given her (nothing personal!). It is about looking death in the face and not flinching. It is about being positive when it would be easy to be otherwise. It is about stepping up when she has every reason not to. And she is content in the knowledge that when her time comes she will embrace her husband, son, parents and others dear to her whom have already departed. And maybe, with my splendid new framework, I won’t feel resigned to leave her behind at OH-OH Hospital. Instead, I will carry her out into the rose-pink light of dawn wrapped in a beautiful, lush blanket, (figuratively speaking that is – no need to warn security).

So thank you Mr Saxon Connor. I am extremely grateful to you. I envy your grace and compassion. I am in awe of the responsible tasks you undertake in a regular working day at the coalface of life and death. Suddenly my own semi-responsible job looks like child’s play. You took an unbearable situation and made it not only palatable but also meaningful. I hope to be better from the privilege of watching you in action, fully present with us and the emotion of the moment, in that moment.

Surgeons put things right, and even now, I feel that writing this to you has assisted in healing me.  Thank you for helping me to piece the bits together.


Janine Harrington

Elaine Berry died at home with family without a single night (alive or dead) at CH CH Hospital.