REAL LIFE: 'When my wife died of ovarian cancer...'

Glenn Levett opens up to The Weekly about the heartbreaking loss of his wife, Anne, and what we all need to do to try to avoid losing a loved one, just as he did.

By Ellie McDonald
My wife Anne passed away in 2002 from ovarian cancer. She was just 49 years old.
In October 2001, she had been feeling tired and uncomfortable so went to the doctor for a check-up. The doctor referred her to a specialist, who recommended immediate surgery. The specialist was fairly optimistic things that were going to be OK.
However, Anne took a while to recover from the operation.
Around Christmas time we went to Port Macquarie, as we’d been doing for nearly 20 years, to camp and swim at the beach.
She’d lost all her strength after the operation, so when she went in the water, the waves kept knocking her over. I had to stay with her to catch her because she couldn’t get herself back up.
That year, for the first time, little pools of calm water had formed on the beach so Anne had to stay in the little pools to be comfortable.
Anne, Glenn and their three children before she passed away in 2002.

The quick and slippery slope...

In March, 2002, Anne went for another check-up. I didn’t even know she was going, Anne hadn’t told me about it. I think she suspected something was wrong. The doctor said the cancer was very aggressive and was again attacking Anne’s body.
Anne didn’t return to work as a primary teacher after the operation; she was just always very tired. A lot of her time was spent sleeping.
She went to hospital on Sunday, April 27, the birthday of our eldest daughter, and she never really left. My birthday was on 4th May so she came home to celebrate as a family. She hadn’t been eating much so I told her I’d cook whatever it was she wanted to eat. She only had two bites.
When Anne was moved out of Westmead Private to the palliative care ward, our friends gave me looks of shock. I’d never heard of palliative care but when I looked it up I was devastated, I told myself “No, this can’t be!”
It was at that moment that I knew loss was coming; it’s hard to describe that feeling.
Anne felt confident because of her belief in God, but there was still a feeling that it was a bit unfair. Anne was the youngest in her family by 20 years and still so young.
Anne’s room in palliative care was very bare so we decorated the walls with photos of the family, and strung up glass light-catchers at the windows that would reflect the sun’s light as rainbows all around the room.
That was a difficult time for everyone. Our youngest was turning 12. I took leave from work and basically just stayed on the lounge.
WATCH the video below to learn more about research surrounding breast and ovarian cancers. Story continues after this video...

When Anne slipped away

When Anne died, I couldn’t go in our bedroom. I couldn’t face sleeping in our bed without her. That went on for a couple of months.
Because our youngest was so young I’d cook some meals for her but I wasn’t eating much. Our youngest daughter was the only reason I actually got up.
Because she was so young, there were things I had to do for her.
When I had to go to the funeral parlour to make arrangements, it took me some time to be able to walk in the door. When I saw Anne’s body I could have sworn she was still breathing. I could see her chest moving up and down, I really thought she was still breathing.
The kids all handled it really well and I put that down to Anne’s bringing them up. I had long commutes to work so was away for long hours. Anne worked closer to home so she could do things like go to school assemblies, carnivals, take the kids places...
After Anne died and our youngest was in high school, I decided that although I was still working I would take the whole day off every athletics carnival so we could be together.
I’d drive her there, watch her run in the races, then go off to get lunch and bring it back to eat together. Unlike lots of other teenagers, she wasn’t embarrassed to have me around; she even introduced me to her friends. We’ve ended up really close.
It was only two years ago that I sorted through Anne’s side of the wardrobe, and there are still some of her things in drawers that I haven’t touched.

What would Anne want now

Anne wanted support and wanted people to be there around her. So for the friends and family of other women who have cancer just be supportive and encouraging.
No matter how black it is, there is light afterwards. As much as possible turn to your family, to your kids and support them because they will also be supporting you!
To other women – get checked! Get checked as often as required. And make sure you have a good relationship with a regular doctor.
There are so many types of ovarian cancer, Anne’s was very aggressive because from one check to the next it had progressed significantly.
We chose to ask for donations instead of flowers at Anne’s funeral because we wanted to do something to help. Even if just one person benefitted from those donations it was worth it.
Research that can prevent or cure these cancers should be properly funded. It’s not enough to focus on the after effects, we need to be able to prevent it in the first place.
Government funding for research should be an ongoing thing, not just promises ahead of an election.
Research and financial support for it will hopefully produce the cure or prevention and more knowledge to reduce the impact of these cancers.
It is for these reasons that Glenn has pledged to advocate and raise money for the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group's (ANZGOG) Save The Box campaign. Save The Box is a campaign dedicated to raising awareness and fundraising for gynaecological cancer research throughout the month of September. Find out more about how easily you can join their money box challenge by visiting www.savethebox.com.au now.

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