Sunday, 16 September 2012

Donations of a different kind

Well, today was yet another day that will go down as an experience I will not forget.

I was asked by Jo at Liv/giant if I could go and speak at the farewell ceremony for the National Transplant Games. They were after an athlete *cough* who represented the spirit of the games - someone who had a can do attitude of Never Give Up.

I was honoured .... and here is a copy of the speech I basically gave.

As I am sure none of you have ever heard of me, my name is Bec Failla.

My story is quite simple really. 11 months ago now, I was watching TV when an ad for the Ride to Conquer Cancer came on. I sat staring at the TV and declared in that instant that I was going to do the ride. The formalities of not having a bike, having 3 little kids and a husband, a full time job .... well, none of that crossed my mind. All I knew was I wanted to make a difference.

I signed up for the ride first, then I went to my local bike shop and purchased the best bike I could afford with only one set of criteria ... it had to be a Giant. The definition of Giant is - thing of great size, a person or thing of extraordinary power, significance, or importance ... and that is what this journey would be about. So it was only fitting that a Giant Bike is also my mode of conquering! Also their motto : Ride Life - Ride Giant ... it just fits!!!

And then this journey officially started. My first ride was a shaky 6km ride around my neighbourhood. I came home with only one thought - how am I ever going to do this? But then I started thinking about people that had influenced my decision to make a difference.

Vince, my brother-in-law, had spent 3 years of his life as a patient of Peter Mac. Vince had renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer) and lymphoma and had been given next to no chance of surviving past five years. He moved down from his home in Hervey Bay and became a patient of Peter Mac. Now, 5 years later, he is as fit as can be expected and in remission of his cancers. He lost his right kidney and 15% of his left kidney, so organ donation is something that Vince will need in years to come. The good thing is my husband is a perfect tissue match for donation. The bad thing - Vince's cancer was genetic. That throws a spanner in the works given my husband could be struck down with the same cancer that almost claimed his brother's life.

Another person I know well - Michelle. Michelle is now 28 and for the last 6 years has battled various types of Cancer. It started in her cervix and over the last 6 years has invaded her brain and liver. In 2011 she was classed as terminal and given 6 months maximum to live. The team at Peter Mac just couldn't see a win to her fight. But, with progress in research and drug therapies, Michelle is alive today, last week had her final chemotherapy dose and is now classed as "no cancer evident". This is something never thought possible 12 months ago. Her fight now though is to find a new liver. Because of what her body has needed to fight her cancer, her liver is now failing her. She is currently on the donor list and the long wait for a phone call has started.

I have 23 other Cancer stories ... and one other special little girl who travels with me on my rides. Little Hannah had Cystic Fibrosis but through organ donation was given the chance to breathe normally, which was her only wish in life. Her family have comfort knowing Hannah's wish came true before she passed.

So I now have the names of my "angels and fighters" on my bike. I should add here, thanks to Giant, I have a much fancier bike. Hearing my story, they decided to make my journey a little bit easier. And after  Michelle and Vince and all of my angels and fighters, her name is Maverick.

These are real people who have put up the fight to live and give it everything. I have their names on my bike as a way of inspiration. When the going gets tough and I feel like quitting, I just look down and think of my angels and fighters and know that pain has no limits and if they made the decision to quit, how different life for us all could be.
It would be like this for all of you. You have faced death and defeat and from your pure strength and determination have made it through. You are all inspirations just by sitting here today. What you are about to go on and do it truly remarkable. Having seen what it takes to survive a transplant - what you are doing now by competing in the Transplant Games shows the courage that you all have.

It seems the Aussie spirit is that we all associate through Sport and celebrate the victories. Whether it be a Grand Final, the Olympics, a Tour victory with Cycling or just an epic journey. Sport builds communities, promotes health and for people like you and me, it provides hope. Through Sport, people like you and me can use it to raise awareness and raise funds and provide hope for a future.

What you are all about to embark on provides hope for those waiting for a phone call. You provide hope for families who have given the gift of life – proving that life does go on! You are all proving the difference that organ donation makes. Without it, this room would be empty.

To receive a donor organ or tissues and then go on to make something from it is truly remarkable. You all need to stand proud because the commitment and dedication you are making is an inspiration like no other.

So, on behalf of me, on behalf of Giant and on behalf of those angels you carry with you, I would like to wish you all the best in Newcastle. We will be looking forward to seeing the results!

Thank – you :)

The actual event was quite an eye opener for me. It was smaller and more informal than I expected, but the impact has been massive. I still have not been able to process it in my mind, but I did get to speak with a few of the athletes who will be competing. What was obvious is that these people don't see themselves as any different to me. They are just going what they are doing and associating with people similar to them. 

Probably the most moving and heart wrenching moment would have to be a conversation I had with a donor family. I was speaking a mum who lost her son at the age of 21 and made the decision to donate his organs. To hear her story will stay with me forever - and yes, give me a few days and I will share it with you. It certainly gave me an insight into organ donation I had never considered. I am on the donor register, but knowing what happens when I do die, what my family will go through, that is something that is not spoken about. But it is a story to be told! Stay tuned!!! 

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Ups and Downs

Well, my last post was about getting back on the bike. 
This post is about getting back on the blog! 

Where have I been you may ask - well, just living a little. 

I have been out on the bike training for RTCC and the few other charity events that are coming up over the next three months. I have conquered one major milestone and that was the Humevale Climb. On elevation maps, it is not too different to the Kinglake Climb, but it has always sent me away in fear that I could never make it up. 7.3kms at an average of about 3.7% gradient. We drove up one Sunday with the kids and I thought at that point that I would be unable to complete the climb this year. 

But I had now decided it was time to face my nemisis. So with a group of fellow RTCC riders, we set off from Mernda at 7am on Sunday and headed for Humevale. I was probably the strongest rider in our group, so the pace was relaxed, but I kept thinking of the fact that I was going to struggle up this climb. 

At the base of Humevale we stopped for a quick drink and then took off. Rules were that each person went at their own pace, if you had to stop, then we all stopped and we would all meet at the top. It was evident right up that we were all going to be hitting this climb differently, so the rules changed quickly. Nikki and Viv (a rider we picked up along the way) would stay together, Pip and Annette would stay together and I would stick to mid group checking in on everyone. I also wanted to grab some photos. 

Nikki and Viv took off while I hung with Pip and Annette. They were going a little slower than I could manage, so I said I would be off, but would see them on the road ahead. I then rode ahead and quickly and easily caught up with Nikki and Viv. This was not what I expected! So I stuck with them for another kilometer or so and decided to push myself a bit and ride ahead, knowing I wanted to get some photos. And again, it was easier than I expected. This windy, continuous climb ... and I was making a meal of it. I pulled over to get some quick snaps of Nikki and Viv and then waited for Annette and Pip. They were a good 5 minutes behind at this point, but happily riding up together at their pace. So then my chase began - to make up the time and catch the lead group. Over a short distance, I didn't fancy my chances, but I was going to give it everything. So off I went. 

Climbing, around bends ... waiting to spot the fluro yellow of Nikki's jacket. I kept climbing and then UP ahead ... yes - UP ahead I saw a flash of fluro. It was Nikki on the other side of the gorge - and what seemed like 20 meters above me. Impossible - I was never going to get her. But I kept at it. I had nothing to lose!!! And then what was about 5 minutes later, here was Nikki in front of me. I was slowly realing her in! This is the chase that many cyclist do. Set a target and just go for it. I was gaining distance and was almost there. She was not only 10 meters in front of me and ...... she pulled over! I was devastated!!! She was hot and had to remove her jacket. My hare had stopped and here was I, the snappy greyhound robbed of my rabbit! 

But I passed her with a smile on my face and then after about 200 meters I also pulled over - only to grab some photos of her riding past. I then decided to roll down the mountain a bit to join Pip and Annette. Through the trees, I could see them coming so pulled over, let them past as I was the papparazzi and then started my climb again. I got to the top of Humevale feeling so proud of what I had done. Conquered one of my biggest fears in cycling. 

We stayed at the top for a while and then headed back down. It was a cold roll ... no peddling required. Again, we were all different levels of confidence going down the hill - one that needs you to be aware and in control. (There are no guard rails and it is a straight drop!) 

All in all, the ride was great. It was only spoilt by me getting 2 flats - a tiny spec of glass embedded in my tire. It had caused a slow leak in the last 3 tubes I have had ... so I am happy it is gone. And now I have Humevale in my sights for this weekend and a PB to get. This time my hare will be my time from last week and yes, I am going to give it all I have got :) 

Off the bike - well, I have had time out to enjoy my kids, catch up on gardening, catch up on housework, catch up on all the other things that I had been ignoring over the last few months. I have been focussing on many more things other than life itself and it was time to have a bit of time for me. It was also time for me to reflect on why I am doing this, do I have the strength to make it bigger and better next year, do I have the focus and determination ... and the answer is HELL YEAH!!!!! But I can't forget all the other prioritise in my life. 

Lists, time management ... geez - I am a Project Manager, so a little bit of business application to my life and I am now sorted. I have my 'dream book', my 2013 diary to record dates etc and now I feel prepared to tackle the next 18 months.

On a sad note, I have also been struggling emotionally after the death of my cat Jerry. 

I need to get this all off my chest, so bare with me! (or skip it if you are not into cats!!) 

Jerry was no ordinary cat - he had been my mate for 19 years. Given to me by a friend, Jerry came to me when he was about 5 weeks old. He was tiny, in need of a bath and a good feed and a bit of love. I had just moved into a flat and didn't have a couch, fridge or bed. But I had a Jerry! We were the best of mates and he loved to follow me everywhere. Back in the day, if I was going anywhere he would walk with me. If I took the car, he could get on the bonnet and scratch, trying to get through the wind sheild. As soon as I got home, I would pick him up and he would flick himself so his paws would be around my neck and he would nuzzle my ear. At 19, he still did this. He still walked to the park, the shop, still went out the front of a morning and waited for me to return in the afternoon.

Despite being old, Jerry died suddenly. Within 4 days he went from being as he is in this picture below to a skinny little cat with no energy. He had stopped eating and no matter what I tried (or cooked) I could not make a difference. It was then I made the heart rendering call to the vet. I knew what had to be done. My call at 9am to the vet netted me a 4:15pm appointment. I was going to have to wait all day, but also I was stuck at work not near my little man who was struggling though his final day. I finally got home, found Jerry under the tree and tried to spend some quiet time with him before we all left for the vet. Mello was working, so I had to be brave for the kids. Before we left, I explained that Jerry was sick and maybe the vet might have to put him to sleep forever. Cue tears from Sam (the girls being too young to understand) and I knew this was going to be one of the hardest things I was going to face. 

I couldn't say goodbye to Jerry. I could only cuddle him and thank him for all the years that we had shared. 19 years. I am almost 38, so this is more than half my life. And he is the only one who has stuck with me for that long. Not even my mum could stick around longer than that!

Arriving at the vet, I was calm. We went in where the vet asked about our history, Jerry's life and my feelings. Even he knew what was going to happen, but bless him, he did not rush it. After 10 minutes, he then examined Jerry and he told me that it was time. At this stage, nothing was going to help Jerry. So our final moments were there together in the vet's room where he very peacefully went off to sleep forever. My heart broke, but I held up strong for the kids. They were not in the room (thanks to the lovely vet nurse) as I held Jerry for the last time and then placed him in the bag that the vet provided. (Note - it was a very nice calico drawstring bag) I was bringing him home to bury him. For the kids sake, I then put him in the carrier, and went out to be with the kids, pay the bill and leave. The vet offering me a hug and checking if I was OK to drive was almost the hardest part!!! 

So as I drove home, reality started to hit. Jack our dog was at home. Him and Jerry shared a bed together at night. Sam was crying, The girls again didn't realise. I pulled into the garage and spotted the whiskers food and just broke down. I was able to usher the kids inside before I fell into a blubbering mess. And then I couldn't stop. I think I cried for 3 hours. While I cooked tea, while I bathed the kids, while I put them to bed. I just couldn't stop. For what was awaiting me was Jerry's burial. 

Cue rain, cue darkness ... and here was I, crying out the front of my house trying to dig a friggen hole in the dark and rain. I had not "dialed before I dug" so was praying I didn't hit anything I shouldn't. How Hollywood of me though!!! I managed complete the task as quickly as possible ... I just wanted to bury my cat and pay him the respect he deserved. I then came home and blubbered for another 3 hours until Mello finally got home. All I needed was his hug. 

It took me until then next afternoon to get back outside (thanks work!) and be able to straighten up the mess that I had created. Something I can kind of laugh at now, but here were big muddy footprints all over our slate entrance, sneakers with 2 inches of clay embedded to them and a really rough job which was Jerry's grave. I managed to clean it all up, and then on the weekend I was able to create what is now known as Jerry's garden. 

So, here I now find myself without my little man Jerry. But each day I come home and he is there. Still sleeping in the front garden. I still say hi to him as I come in, but he no longer follows me in. And at tea time, Jack in now finally tasting dog food. For his 11 years, he has shared a can of whiskers with Jerry. Now I can't even look at cat food. I miss him - and yes, he was just a cat. But that is to everyone else. To me, he was my mate who I miss. (yes, I am crying as I type this so sorry for any spelling or grammer errors LOL) 

If I feel like this over my cat, imagine those who lose their loved ones when it is too soon. Wives having to say good bye to husbands, kids having to say goodbye to the dads, mums having to say goodbye to their kids ...... We do what we have to do at the time, but then are left to think. And it is those moments that are most painful. It is wanting another hug, another embrace or even just another meow! And now I find myself wanting to go into the pet shop (actually it is a Lort Smith Rescue Centre) to have a look if a cat or kitten is needing a new home. I know it is because it will make me feel better. It will give me a new life to focus on, a new journey to start and a new friendship to form. But when people die, you can't go to your local shop and pick up a new one to make you feel better. You are left forever with that emptiness. 

This experience gives me raw emotion to focus on when I ride. As I said, if I feel like this over my cat, imagine those who lose their loved ones when it is too soon. So I will use the grief I have from my fury friend and use it to focus on my next journey. My fundraising for Peter Mac will not stop on October 28 as I cross the line at Albert Park. My journey to make a difference will not stop there. Fighting Back will continue for as long as I can! Our of respect for those who fight like hell and for those who should never have to feel the pain of loss. There is no cure for life - we will all die.But if we can create just one more day of memories to cherish, then that is good enough for me!!!