My husband, Brian, was an incredible man. His easygoing nature and sense of adventure made him a people magnet. Proud, but humble, he never took things for granted and always gave as much as he received.
Not surprisingly, he had many friends and that companionship turned out to be a blessing when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He needed his friends more than ever.
True to his character, Brian was upfront to his friends about his illness and his prognosis of less than a year. His attitude was to get the news out there and then get on with his life. Brian never asked for sympathy, nor did he appear to need it. What he wanted more than anything else was to feel normal. He asked his friends to continue treating him the same way as they always had.
Understandably, this was not an easy thing to do.
Some of his friends felt uncomfortable about his terminal illness, and they showed unease around him. When they stopped coming around, I worried about Brian’s feelings and was grateful for those who remained. Their continued support through his terminal illness helped Brian enjoy the precious time he was granted. It demonstrated what true friendship is all about.
John, a former co-worker, stood above the rest. They shared a passion for fishing and the pair had spent many happy hours throwing a line from our 12-foot dingy.
The three of us shared a favorite fishing spot, the Bay of Rest in Exmouth in Western Australia. Its tidal flats teem with a wide variety of fish. There was something magical about the bay. No one loved it more than Brian, and he was determined not to let mesothelioma spoil his enjoyment of it.
Our fishing excursions always followed a routine. First, Brian would cast the net used to trap schools of mullet. We cut these for baiting the larger fish later in the day. While John and I attended to the net, Brian would venture into the swamps surrounding the bay in search of mangrove crabs.
These elusive creatures live in the mud under the mangrove trees. They hide in deep holes, making them difficult to find, let alone catch, but Brian was an expert at it. He had learned the art of pulling them out of their burrows with a long-handled hook when he was a boy. He never failed to catch us a good feed. He was usually in the mangrove swamps for around an hour. When he returned, we all got into some serious fishing.
Fishing wasn’t necessarily difficult for Brian, but whenever there was fluid buildup in his chest, he became breathless. He returned to normal after doctors drained it and continued to do most of the heavy lifting when we took the boat to the bay.
He was still tanned and strong in those early days, and I remember thinking, “How can he look this well when he is supposed to be dying?”
The hiatus from symptoms was short-lived. As Brian’s disease progressed, he experienced chronic pain, and I worried more about this than I did his fishing. Thankfully, good pain management and the right medication helped keep his pain under control.
When his strength began to weaken, it was John who came to the rescue. Without making it obvious to Brian, he bore most of the burden of lifting the boat and carrying the heavy outboard motor. This was not an easy task for a short man of average strength. I saw him stagger under the load more than once.
Despite his weakening condition, Brian continued going into the mangrove swamp looking for crabs. I started to fear he might not come out alive. Waiting for him was torture, but I was glad John was beside me to talk. We had long conversations about Brian and what was happening to him. I found it helpful to hear his perspective on how Brian was handling his disease.
I sometimes wanted to head into the mangroves looking for Brian after thinking something had happened to him. John always convinced me to stay still.
“Brian is doing something he loves,” John would say to me. “He would not be happy if he felt that you no longer believed he was capable of it.”
With John’s help, Brian managed to fish in his beloved Bay of Rest until the day we had to move fifteen hours away to Perth for his chemotherapy treatments. I will never forget the look of joy on Brian’s face each time he caught a fish or his look of triumph when he emerged from the mangrove swamp with a bag full of crabs.
My gratitude to John is boundless.
John, like Brian, is gone now, too.
I sometimes wonder if he and Brian are out there on that dingy, pulling fish and crabs from the sea and talking about the good old days.