This story is more than a year in the making. Dating back to early 2020 when I again started chemotherapy to treat my lymphoma I made the decision to join a small Facebook group set up for motorhomers with cancer. I must say I was skeptical about the site and wondered if it would benefit me in any way being a member. What I quickly discovered is that the members were a group of people who had a very realistic outlook on life, comments made on the site contained humour and genuine concern not platitudes. I soon found myself enjoying the banter and became a regular contributor to the site.
Like a lot of enterprises it’s often one person that really drives the success or failure of something. So it is with this Facebook group, with Chris Andrews working tirelessly to help others in the group despite being faced with terminal prostate cancer. So it was no surprise when back in February an invitation arrived for a group get together he was organising in Whakatane. At the time the invite arrived I was still undergoing chemo and was expecting to be dosed the day prior to the event. Not ideal before a four hour drive given how badly I was suffering from fatigue and other side effects.
However, after they suspended my chemo and my body started to recover Sarah made the suggestion that maybe we could reconsider. I messaged Chris to make sure there was still a spot available, telling him that subject to my blood tests results Thursday we would be there. Thursday morning rolled around with me at the hospital bright and early for my 8am test. With my blood counts starting to stabalise I was released without the need for a transfusion and we could hop in the motorhome and go.
In the motorhome we keep a dairy of our travels, Sarah checked the date of our last adventure and we realised it was eight months to the day since we had been anywhere. Even though the side effects from chemo are subsiding fatigue is still a big factor so we planned on breaking the four hour drive to Whakatane by stopping somewhere for the night along the way. Finding myself getting tired, still well short of our destination I asked Sarah to drive. She did an amazing job and between the two of us we then decided we would do the whole thing in one run sharing the remaining drive. We arrived in Whakatane safe and sound ready for an enjoyable weekend.
Officially the weekend wasn’t set to kick off till 4pm Friday so we made contact with some friends we had met through motorhoming, letting them know we where in town. Lillian and Lester picked us up Friday 10.30 and took us to their daughters café for a coffee. Then back to their place for a spot of lunch. They live overlooking the entrance to the harbour, Lillian is a very keen photographer and is often posting photos like the one she took above. I don’t think I would ever tire of that view. If you are ever in Poppy’s café in Whakatane she has some of her photos for sale, well worth visiting.
It was a bit of musical chairs Friday when circle of chairs kept getting pushed outwards as more people arrived. Eventually we ended up circling the perimeter of the building with just enough space for everyone. Chris (standing in the blue shirt) got us underway with some basic health and safety rules for the weekend. He also went round the room with some basic introductions. Of course I promptly forgot everyone’s names. Luckily however name badges had been made for all, making it much easier.
Then the BBQ was underway with food sponsored by Whakatane New World. Some of the best sausages and salads you can imagine disappeared in the blink of an eye. It’s amazing what 50 odd hungry people can consume. With the food gone it was time to turn to your neighbour and find out a bit about the people sitting around you. One of whom I had known had been to the same school as me but ten years previous. He asked me where I had lived at that time, neither of us could believe it when we discovered that we had in fact lived in the same house. His parents built the house in 1963 and mine brought it from his in 1971 with my mum staying there till 2016. What a small world. In the meantime Sarah was busy getting to know the couple on the otherside who had both suffered from different forms of cancer.
The following morning was a chance for a sleep in, it really is amazing just how restful being in the motorhome can be. The routines that you get into at home disappear and it really is a chance to unwind especially after eight months away from it. In fact the whole day was going to be a lazy one sharing a cup of coffee with some in the group as well as catching up on more fatigue related sleep.
While I was sleeping, Sarah took part in a Bachelorette painting session for our soon to be daughter in law. The idea was that members of the group would each paint a section of the painting, each part recognising something that was special or important to Haylee. I think she did a great job.
Although we did stretch our legs with a walk down to the airport. Not that far probably only around a kilometre each way but far enough for me with my current health issues. You can imagine that pre Covid 19 this would have been a busy place with tourist flights taking off on a regular basis. And I guess if you book in advance you can still do that but sad to arrive on a Saturday afternoon and find the buildings all closed.
Things officially kicked off on Saturday at around 3.30 with a lucky prize draw. Each attendee had been given a wristband with a number on it and then a random generator was used to draw numbers for the prizes. Another example of how much energy Chris puts into these things was the shear number of prizes he had managed to cobble together. There was however a special prize and after Sarah and I had sat through the first round only to be disappointed at missing out on the Pams Coffee, my number was called, winning the beautiful piece of greenstone above. Carved by Bruce Plummer who often stays where this event was being held he had donated this piece for Chris to give away. I felt very special to have won such a fine piece.
Dinner that evening was another BBQ this one sponsored by the Mad Butcher in Rotorua. The owner of which has his parents as part of the group. Far to much food was again on offer, there certainly wouldn’t have been anyone going hungry after that. Unless of course they were vegetarian. Then the chance for more socialising and getting to know other in the group.
I think one of the amazing things about the weekend is that the pre-conceived idea of that many people together with cancer would lead to lots of woe is me stories. Instead everyone there had a positive attitude to life. Even those who had suffered from medical misadventures during a procedure came with a smile and laugh and spent the weekend enjoying themselves. I titled this blog a Weekend Of True Hero’s and that to me describes all those who attended. The people who suffered and the people there supporting them all of them in my eyes are hero’s. If you would like to find out more about our little group search Cancer hero’s of NZ on Facebook or click on this link. There are however two people that are special Hero’s Chris Andrews and his wife Angela Brown who between them put on a fantastic event. Special mention must also be made of Bill and Annette Matheson who made their place available to the group.
Sunday morning after the group photo it was time to pack up the motorhome and start heading home. We had arranged to meet some really good friends of ours at Ray’s rest before driving back into Auckland Monday for another week of hospital appointments. John and Gaylene have recently swapped their motorhome for a large American one. I thought ours was spacious but this takes it to another level. That night we shared fish and chips from the shop in Kaiaua and I am pleased to report they were much better than last time we tried them.
What a weekend. We will have to make sure it’s not another eight months before we use the motorhome again.