Kaye and Alan Lean celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a cup of tea while in a ward at Wagga’s Calvary Hospital.
At the time, Mrs Lean was undergoing treatment for the rare and aggressive small-cell lung cancer and was having both chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
As the cancer advanced, Mrs Lean required increased medical care and was admitted to Calvary’s palliative care unit.
Mrs Lean was in the unit for some weeks and her husband has nothing but praise for the staff and the facility.
Having now seen first hand how the unit operates, Mr Lean wants to make sure as many people as possible are aware of the care it offers, not just to patients, but for loved ones as well.
“They care for you as a family member, provide some extra meals, things like that,” he said.
“People are perhaps not aware you can have that.
“If you are of a religious background, you can get that support there and you can make use of that.
It gives you a chance to say goodbye, show your love, all that sort of stuff. You can just concentrate on your loved one.Alan Lean
“The nurses’ ability to communicate with you is the real key – to be able to tell you, openly and honestly, what’s happening, and they know, better than anybody, because they’re handling it every day.
“It just helps with your expectations. It eliminates the doubt. In palliative care you actually know what’s happening, why it’s happening and where you’re at.
“I think that’s terribly important. It gives you a chance to say goodbye, show your love, all that sort of stuff.
“You can just concentrate on your loved one.”
Mr Lean said he had the chance to watch a lot of lovely conversations between the nursing staff and his wife, with a lot of these special moments taking place in the middle of the night.
“They were terrific, just unbelievably supportive and wonderful,” he said.
“When Kaye first went into palliative care, she had pneumonia and she was not able to communicate – she was semi-comatose – and then the antibiotics kicked in after about three or four days. One morning, I walked in because I wasn't staying there overnight then and she just said ‘good morning darling' .
“The night nurse was in the room – after the end of her shift – to see my reaction and not only that, but she stayed to see the doctor’s reaction too.”
Mrs Lean spent a period of five weeks in palliative care, building up her physical strength, before being able to go home for 10 days until her condition required a return to Calvary.
“Getting Kaye home again for a while had been a real objective of mine,” Mr Lean said.
Mrs Lean, a mother of three and a grandmother of four, died on September 30, at the age of 74.
During her second stay in the palliative care unit, Mrs Lean was able to spend time as much time as she chose with her family.
Mr Lean was also able to stay, 24 hours a day, with his wife, and said being in the palliative care unit gave him the chance to simply concentrate on her.
“The 10 days I had her at home, I wasn’t able to relax. I had to be with her all the time. It was a total support thing,” he said.
“But in palliative care, you’re removed from worrying about what’s for dinner, if you want a drink or wondering about medication. I was able to spend much more time talking and being with Kaye, which was nice.”
Mrs Lean was well known in Wagga as a pioneer of Camp Quality and Country Hope.
She devoted 30 years to helping families with seriously sick children.
Once she even spent 10 days in an isolation ward to be with a child who had just undergone a bone marrow transplant.
“She was a born carer,” her husband said.
“She would have made a wonderful nurse herself.”
Mr Lean said his wife’s volunteer work had given her an insight into exactly what her own treatment would involve.
“She never complained about her cancer,” he said.
“Once, after a scan showed it had spread, she turned to me and said ‘what a bastard’, but that was it.”
Mr Lean said his wife’s first clue that she was ill was a serious rash that was not clearing up despite medical treatment.
Her doctor suggested a scan, which revealed the lung cancer.