April 10, 2014

Coral Fuata’s story

Coral and Beth

My husband, Alex, was a fit and active 55 year old father of our three children and rarely visited the doctor.

In 2008 Alex visited the local clinic for what he thought was an infected bite. To make the most of his visit, he asked for a full check-up. His results were completely normal and it was simply by chance that the radiologist was at the clinic, so the doctor also recommended a chest x-ray.

Immediately after having the x-ray, Alex was referred for a CT scan. He was then advised to return to the clinic as soon as it reopened the next morning.

When he came home that night, I took the envelope from him. I saw the two page report and I knew something was not right. I sat at the computer and entered some keywords. My stomach sank in disbelief as I saw the words lung cancer and bone cancer. I walked to the lounge room where Alex was sitting with the kids and said ‘I think I will come with you to the doctor tomorrow’. I said nothing to him and he was totally unaware, not suspecting a thing.

I was anxious and even more so the next morning. When we arrived at the clinic, we were whisked into the doctor’s office. She said ‘you do know, don’t you?’ I said ‘no, we don’t know but I think it is bad’. She said ‘I am sorry Alex you have lung cancer; it is terminal’.

Alex just sat there. He did not say a word.

She said she needed to organise immediate treatment, we were to go home and wait for her call.

I couldn’t believe this was happening to Alex, the strong, powerful and healthy man. I wondered what was going through Alex’s mind? How he was feeling?  Were there really no answers, no positive ending?

I remember so clearly walking into the oncologist’s office and seeing Beth Ivimey, Alex’s Lung Cancer Nurse, sitting to the back of the room behind the oncologist. She was smiling and had a firm yet warm and friendly face.

Beth walked with us, guiding us through the hospital maze. She took Alex and I through every test explaining the details as we went along.  Beth never left our side that day, nor any day following.

Three months later Alex passed away. Beth was there on that night too. She placed her hand on his chest as he lay unconscious and she said ‘God’s speed Alex’.  He died 10 minutes later.

The day Alex was diagnosed was just shattering. When I look back at that day when we sat numb and in fear I could never have imagined how fortunate we were. From the very moment we met Beth it was very clear her interest was to help us – not just Alex, but also me and the children. If I had a question, she had an answer, and if not, she would find one. She made it her immediate priority to establish rapport with both Alex and myself and help us through the diagnosis. For three months, Beth supported Alex. She was the vital link between us and the oncologist, information and Alex’s co-ordinated care.

For me, the sad reality is many lung cancer patients will never have the support of someone like Beth. There simply aren’t enough lung cancer nurse positions in Australia because these roles are currently funded at a hospital or clinic level rather than being given national priority.

In fact, there are fewer than 20 specialist lung cancer nurses spread across 62 lung cancer multi-disciplinary teams for all of Australia.

Lung Foundation Australia is asking the Federal Government to support a two year pilot program for more lung cancer nurses as part of the May budget.

To both Alex and I Beth was our rock, the person we could turn to. She took away many stresses so we could continue to share days together as a family when there weren’t many left.

Beth was more than a nurse to us – she has become a friend, a lifetime friend.

Coral and Alex's story - a visual journey (1 MB)