It was a privilege to care for my brother: Nola’s story

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It was a privilege to care for my brother: Nola’s story

Nola resigned from work to spend time with her brother Pete when his health started deteriorating. Photo: Pippa Wischer.

Pete was diagnosed with prostate cancer. During his last year, his sister Nola moved in to look after him. Surrounded by his friends and all his animals, Pete died peacefully at home. Nola told her story to Pippa Wischer.

I was with Pete when he had his first chemotherapy treatment, and I was a bit devastated. We were hopeful after the chemo and Pete thought he was cured. I think he really didn’t believe he was going to die, even though we were told any treatment was palliative. He still worked when he could and was doing reasonably well until a year before he died.

I knew Pete was deteriorating, so I resigned from work to spend time with him. It was an absolute privilege to be able to be there for him. He didn’t have to ask me; I could just see it. We had such a wonderful relationship and we could discuss anything. We discussed his staying at home and before he was really sick we discussed his funeral, his life, everything.

Pete lived with his menagerie on a farm 20 minutes out of Natimuk [in Western Victoria]. He planned to have the help of the district nurses when he was too unwell to look after himself. When I moved in with him, I had to learn about the farm and the animals, how to feed them and how to work the pumps. It was more than caring for just Pete; it was caring for the whole property.

Pete’s best friend Steve would help every evening and the community was absolutely fantastic. If Pete or I needed anything, I could just ring. The hospice nurses came every fortnight and they were always available on the phone whenever I wanted them. We had a good relationship with our doctor and the district nurses too. It was a tight-knit community and Pete knew them all.

"I always wanted to say goodbye but I didn’t want to choose the wrong moment."

Steve was fantastic. Neither of us could have done it on our own. In the last month Pete had a syringe driver and Steve and I were able to manage that and we could give him the breakthrough pain management if we needed it. Steve would regularly take Pete into town and give us both a break.

I suppose that being a nurse made it easier for me to do things like monitoring his pain relief. Sometimes I’d hope I wasn’t knocking him out, but I thought it doesn’t really matter, so long as he isn’t in pain. A fortnight ago I was diagnosed with bowel-cancer and now I’m sick too. I can understand why Pete didn’t want pain. It was a big thing for him and it’s really clarified for me how important pain-relief is.

When he was free of pain we’d go off and do some fencing or chase sheep. I found that a bit difficult at the start, but I realised that it wasn’t my journey, but Pete’s, and it was up to me to facilitate. And if that meant going to the pub with his friends that was okay. He’d have one drink, the guys would come up and chat with him and then we’d go home. It was what he wanted to do and his mates really appreciated that he could get out and about. It was a real privilege to be able to listen to what Pete wanted and to do that for him.

When he was dying on the Saturday morning I sat with him. I had a lovely chat with him, telling him how proud I was of him and that I’d look after his animals. I always wanted to say goodbye but I didn’t want to choose the wrong moment. I told him to say “Hi” to mum and dad. It was very special to have that moment with him. He was very peaceful. The hospice nurses had given us information about what happens when someone dies and what you need to do, and it all went really well.

Pete was into beer and motorbikes. There were 22 antique motorbikes at the funeral and we had the wake in the pub. It was exactly what Pete wanted and it was a lovely time of closure for me. Steve and a few of Pete’s other friends were able to choose where Pete would be buried and they chose a spot under a tree so that they could pull up and have a beer with Pete. They were grieving too. It wasn’t just me grieving; it was the whole community.

Nola's story was originally published in Carers in the Grampians.