The gift of time - Arohanui Hospice

The gift of time

Stephanie Francis
May 10, 2018

The gift of time

Imagine describing a two year period of your life as a ‘blank’ or ‘a blur in time’; these are the words from a brave, calm and incredibly strong man.

Meet Brendon McNabb, a father of two that some would describe as a ‘Super Dad’. But not Brendon, he wouldn’t say that, he’s too modest and accepting of what life dealt him and his family, instead describing himself as a ‘typical kiwi bloke’. Brendon works as an inspector for the Manawatu District Council and prior to this served in the New Zealand Army for 26 years as a plumber. He met his wife Kelly 10 years ago when she was a Registered Nurse working in the Intensive Care Unit at the Palmerston North Hospital.  She was a devoted Girl Guides leader, had lots of friends and was always described as ‘friendly’. She had spent time working as a flight nurse assisting with patient transfers. The couple married in 2008 and begun their life journey together. They have two beautiful boys, Daniel aged 5 and Jacob aged three and a half. In 2014, Brendon and Kelly received news that no couple ever wants to hear. Kelly had been having reoccurring head aches and generally felt unwell for sometime. She had been to doctors many times and was diagnosed with having sinus problems. Her symptoms progressively worsened and in December 2014 a CT scan revealed the worst news. Kelly, aged 36, was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme.

Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) is the most common malignant primary brain tumour. These tumours are often aggressive and infiltrate surrounding brain tissue. GBMs arise from glial cells, which are cells that form the tissue that surrounds and protects other nerve cells found within the brain and spinal cord. Malignant tumours are cancerous and are made up of cells that grow out of control. The couple were devastated. “We were in a haze after the diagnosis for a few months just waiting for it to register. Kelly was upset but strong and went about sorting help,” explained Brendon. Prior to her diagnosis Kelly had just accepted a role at the hospital as a charge nurse for perioperative services. She was looking forward to a role that had less shift work and would be more suited to her family and caring for her boys. After the CT scan Kelly was rushed to Wellington Hospital for surgery to remove some of the tumour on her brain. After recovering from surgery, whilst undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy Kelly returned to work. Brendon spoke highly of both his and Kelly’s employers at the time and how supportive both organisations where through their entire journey.

Unfortunately the prognosis for Kelly wasn’t great and in February 2016 she was referred to Arohanui Hospice. By this stage in their journey Brendon and Kelly were relieved to have the support and care provided by the Hospice, appreciating the available on-call 24 hour services.  Brendon explained, “Nurses would come to our home to manage Kelly’s pain relief and sort her subcut pump. The Hospice was good for me, they provided medical care that I couldn’t, it gave me a break away from worrying about her (Kelly) and constantly thinking what should I be doing now.” Brendon and Kelly were impressed with the support network and services available to them at their time of need, services such as Arohanui Hospice, Cancer Society, EnableNZ and the Occupational Therapy Services at the Hospital. The couple appreciated the consistent patient care and reliability of services that the Hospice provided.

“The Hospice was the best place for us to get consistent care, at the hospital it was tough at times with Doctors doing different shifts and different rounds, trying different drugs,” said Brendon.

Kelly was admitted into the Hospice inpatient unit in April 2016 for symptom management and for monitoring. Brendon was impressed with the staff in the inpatient unit during Kelly’s stay. “The team were awesome, they go out of their way, they are genuine people,” said Brendon. In May 2016, almost two years after diagnosis, Kelly was admitted into the Hospice inpatient unit for the last time. She died peacefully on the 9th May, aged 37, with Brendon, her Mum, Dad and two sisters at her bedside. Brendon speaks of their journey with such poise and grace. He was appreciative of the extra support he and Kelly had from extended family through this time and in particular from Kelly’s parents who live locally. He considers himself and Kelly to be ‘lucky’. Not lucky to have been diagnosed with such a ‘horrible disease’, but to have been blessed with the gift of time, time to have had the opportunity to prepare for Kelly’s death.

Brendon and Kelly’s children were on this journey with them and Brendon talks a lot of Kelly’s strength throughout. She was dedicated to leaving a living memory for her children that would help keep her memory alive. Kelly prepared many mementos for her children, videos of her reading books, birthday cards for milestone birthdays, letters and notes of inspiration. All tucked away for the future for Brendon to give to them. “The kids won’t forget her or her voice with the videos,” said Brendon. Brendon and Kelly had peace of mind in knowing that the care and support that they received at the Hospice was being provided at no charge to them.

After Kelly had died Brendon really wanted to give something back to Hospice. He thought about giving a general donation, but decided he’d rather give for a specific item. He spoke to his brother Shane and together they decide to gift a generous monetary donation to the Hospice to purchase new Smart televisions for the inpatient unit rooms. He had identified the need for these during the time he spent in the rooms, noticing that the previous televisions were older models that could do with replacement, and this met his need to donate something ‘practical’. Brendon is a kind hearted and generous man. He still regularly donates items to the Hospice such as boxes of canned soft drinks.

“I’m all about the treats, sometimes I drop off boxes of canned drinks, for the patients or staff. I don’t really mind who has them, as long as they are being enjoyed,” said Brendon.

After all that Brendon and the McNabb family have been through, he still exudes that ‘she’ll be right’ attitude of a typical kiwi bloke. But I think most would agree he is far from being just a typical kiwi bloke. Continuing on with such a generous and kind spirit despite what has happened to him and his family makes him pretty extraordinary.