Goodbye to my friend, Ricki Hayes

My friend, Ricki Hayes, had lost her long and painful battle with triple negative breast cancer. I will miss her.

Death was expected. I received a message from her beloved and endlessly supportive husband of 37 years, Terry, on the 28th of December. She was in pain which the doctors were managing "as best they can" and it seemed she only had a few more days. My sadness at her passing is tempered with genuine relief that she is no longer in pain. I nursed my father during his lost battle with cancer and I can appreciate how distressing this last ten days must have been for Ricki and her family. 

I met Ricki through the Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) site when I started sharing some of my blog posts with other women dealing with breast cancer. Rick was a long term survivor and still spent time on the site offering support and encouragement to other women. She started following my blog and was often the only person to comment on something I had written. On days when I contemplated abandoning it all, it was Ricki that encouraged me to keep going, to keep writing. "You put into words what so many of us are struggling to say." 

It was Ricki that first suggested I should write a book about dealing with the fear of recurrence that plaques people living with cancer, and people dealing with life after cancer. I am certain I would never have written it without her encouragement. She was the first person to receive a final copy of the book. 

Rick described herself to me as "ordinary". She was a devoted mother and grandmother, a loving wife and like so many women, she wore many other hats. Her career as a teacher earned her a legion of loving ex-students and her involvement in her church gave her a community of faithful friends.

Her commitment to helping other women with cancer went beyond the online support she so frequently offered through BCNA. She volunteered to allow researchers to test new drugs and methods on her. "If being their guinea pig can save someone else then that's enough for me," she told me. She was also an active online advocate for a host of important issues, including marriage equity, access to medical cannabis and the PBS listing of potentially life saving cancer drugs, including Keytruda, that are currently too expensive for most people. She talked openly about what life with metastatic cancer was like, and supported so many other women going through a parallel experience.

When Ricki knew she had reached the end of her treatment options and that a slow decline into death had become inevitable, she sent me a short message to let me know and I wrote back expressing my sympathy and support. I am still struck by her reply. Here it is:

Thanks for your calming words Meg. As I was showering ...(.best thinking place without distractions and love the sound of running water!!!) how liberating I felt knowing I could spend time and energy on 'living' rather than always feeling as if I was fighting an enermy/ pushing through nausea etc I know there will be days that are tough....thats part of normal life anyway, but the feeling of liberation the I have today far outweighs anything else. I have been and are blessed in SO many ways, how dare I complain when there is so much suffering by those who are displaced by war, greed and the push for power.

I've had the excitement of adventures at home & overseas; the privilege of study and encouraging little minds to delve into the future; to feel suffering so I can better understand and walk with others who are there; but mostly I have known so much joy and that is what I wish to focus on. My family, my friends near and far, my environment ... wherever I find myself each day....the other things I cant control so I'll leave them to those who specialise in them!

Real freedom comes when we truly realise and accept the inevitability of life. Then we can begin to live!

Thank you for your support encouragement, knowledge, friendship and love.

I would not have been at all surprised or critical if Ricki had been despondent or angry at the news that there was nothing other than palliative care available to her, but here she was rejoicing. Life was wonderful. She was going to keep living every second of it, right up until the point when she couldn't. Her compassion for others and her love for family and friends was always at the heart of who Ricki was, and that's how I'll remember her.

Real freedom comes when we truly realise and accept the inevitability of life. Then we can begin to live. Yes. YES. We are all dying. When we come to understand that, all the way down to our temporary bones, something wonderful happens.

In early November I headed down to Sydney for what I knew would probably be my last visit with Ricki. She had sent me messages about the pain she was experiencing and the endless rounds of radiation they were giving her in an attempt to reduce some of the tumours. I expected to see a frail shadow of my friend. Instead I was met with laughter and jokes about dying. Surrounded by flowers, Ricki told me that her dearest wish was to have one last Christmas with her family. Terry tells me they spent it going through photos and enjoying happy memories together. I'm so glad she got her wish. She went downhill quickly after Christmas. I suspect she had been hanging on by sheer force of will but Ricki would no doubt want me to credit God. 

Making friends with other people dealing with cancer is fraught. On the one hand, you have so much in common, and on the other there is a reasonable caution about forming close bonds with someone that clearly has a life threatening illness. Will we come to care about each other only to grieve? I would not have missed the opportunity to become Ricki's friend. We have been through some rough times together and sometimes the only person that can really understand the internal landscape of cancer treatment is someone that has travelled it. The black humour is too much for the uninitiated and our desire to spare our families our darkest thoughts makes these kinds of friendships very special. At one point it looked like I might die before Ricki. Her friendship never wavered. 

This is real friendship. Holding tight to each other when you know that death might be just around the corner. Sharing messages of support like notes passed under a desk in a classroom when you know that those messages might be uncomfortable or confronting for others. Fiercely hoping, sometimes against the odds, that survival is possible and ultimately, accepting death with the joyful grace that Ricki has taught me. I will live a better life for knowing her. I will die a better death.

Farewell my dear friend. My heart goes out to your precious family, particularly Kathryn who is so like my Zoe. You will live on in their hearts and in mine. 

I wanted to say you were anything but ordinary. I don't want to contradict you. Instead I will say this; you demonstrated that an ordinary life can be a very extraordinary thing. All my love and gentle hugs. 

reposted from 

https://wordpress.com/post/positive3neg.wordpress.com/2493 

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Comments

  • MollygirlMollygirl Brisbane Member Posts: 213
    Whilst I'm not so eloquent with words I just want to say I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. She sounds like an absolutely amazing person who enriched the lives of others. Hugs. X
  • lrb_03lrb_03 Member Posts: 818
    What a beautiful tribute to someone who sounds so special to many.
    Hugs to you at this time, Lyn
  • Fiona2Fiona2 Member Posts: 58
    This is an awesome tribute.  Whilst I can feel there is deep loss and sadness here, what absolutely shines through is the triumph of spirit in two exceptional women whose lives have been infinitely enriched by their friendship and their wisdom and freedom achieved through traversing deep struggle and pain.  My heart goes out to you and your friend's family with love, gratitude and sympathy.
  • SoldierCrabSoldierCrab Bathurst NSW Member Posts: 2,469
    @positive3negative
    so sorry to hear that Ricki has left us but so happy to know she is out of pain your words are so intimate and I want to encourage you that we BC sisters often take the risk to engage and connect with other BC sisters knowing the risks but also knowing the awesome rewards of such friendships and connections. 
    My heart goes out to her family and those that held her close may you all find comfort at this time. 

    soldiercrab
  • Sunshine0206Sunshine0206 Member Posts: 134
    I’m so sorry for your loss. Vale Ricki. X
  • Giovanna_BCNAGiovanna_BCNA Administrator, Staff, Member, Moderator Posts: 574
    @postive3negative,
    What a beautiful tribute for your friend Ricki and what a huge loss.
    Although I never knew Ricki she sounds like such an amazing person.
    Thinking of you at this very sad time.
    With kind regards
    Giovanna
  • SoldierCrabSoldierCrab Bathurst NSW Member Posts: 2,469
    @positive3negative
    what was her BCNA forum name so others who only knew her by that know who we are talking about please. 

  • ZoffielZoffiel Regional VictoriaMember Posts: 2,053
    Meg, it would be lovely to have such an eloquent eulogy.

    Something that resonated with me was your mention of the risks of getting close to those who's end of life is no longer a theory, but a reality. My involvement with a variety of advocacy organisations over the last ten years has seen me reading or composing far too many posts or emails that start with the word 'Vale'.

    The upside has been access to brilliant people who have been willing mentors driven by the knowledge that life is fleeting and there is much to be done.

    Marg xxx
  • SoldierCrabSoldierCrab Bathurst NSW Member Posts: 2,469


    With Grace she has gained her wings, may those who knew  her be comforted by the fact she is no longer in pain  :'(
  • SoldierCrabSoldierCrab Bathurst NSW Member Posts: 2,469
    @scarf lady
    was Ricki's BCNA online name 
  • AfraserAfraser MelbourneMember Posts: 1,640
    To find joy in life when facing death is a great gift - not only to the one dying. Thank you for sharing this tribute and your friend's words. 
  • primekprimek Broken HillMember Posts: 4,425
    I'm sorry for your loss.  X
  • wendy55wendy55 Copper Triangle South AustraliaMember Posts: 388
    There is nothing that I could add to what has already been said,just thank you for sharing this,


    wendy55xx
  • kayviekayvie Melbourne Member Posts: 157
    A wonderful tribute, thanks for sharing. I am so sorry for your loss of a remarkable and deep friendship x
  • PaynePayne Forster NSWMember Posts: 131
    @positive3negative, Thank you for sharing your beautiful and moving tribute to your friend Ricki. I also lost my dear friend to BC. I was diagnosed with BC day before her memorial service and instead of focussing on the wonderful tributes being given at the memorial, I was distracted by my own fears and doubts and of course missing my friend whom I would have otherwise being sharing these feeling with.  Your ability to rise above your own concerns and write a heartfelt tribute is worthy of praise. I feel ashamed I wasn't able to do the same for my friend.  Kindest regards to you. Sue 
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