Thursday, January 19, 2012

Peter Veness, the hidden parts

During his final days at Clare Holland House Kevin Rudd phoned and read him psalm after psalm.

Labor MP Andrew Leigh held his hand and stayed with him as if time had stood still. Bishop Stuart Robinson prayed and held his hand. The priests at St Johns came over to offer communion. Friends poured in from all over Australia.

In Peter's hands when he died were the blue teddy bear that had comforted him through three or four years of hospital visits fighting cancer, and a small wooden cross.

Peter Veness was - is - a truly wonderful human being. You can read tributes to him here and here.

He was frightened and brave.

What the tributes gloss over is that he was a Christian. He talked to God and wanted to know him.

He was Chair of St John's Parish Council. He was studying theology at St Mark's.

God made him strong for other people, for his wife Bec, and strong enough to stand up to the cancer that just weeks ago game back for one final attack.

To downplay his faith in Jesus in assessments of his life and his effect on people is to downplay an important part of who he was.

I love Peter. So many of us do.

He'll be remembered at 10.30 this morning at St Johns, and afterwards at the National Press Club.

Here is a feature Peter Veness wrote for his employer AAP in 2009:

I have cancer. I am 25 years old.

By Peter Veness

First it was in my brain and now it's spread to my spine.

I had brain surgery to remove the tumour from my head, which had been missed six months earlier; eight tumours then appeared on my spine.

The doctors give me little hope.

Stuff the doctors who have already killed me; they don't tell me when to die.

These are the same doctors who told me they would eat their hats if there were any tumours on my spine.

Well, get out your knives and forks, boys, and chow down on those Akubras. It's ridiculous that they talk like this but it's exactly what happened to a close friend who was told she almost certainly had cancer only to be diagnosed with a completely different disease that could almost certainly be fixed with antibiotics.

Yes, these diseases are no doubt difficult but surely doctors should not offer such certainty without first doing the science.

The other fun is monthly MRI scans of my brain and spine. An MRI is a small, loud tunnel the patient is fed into and then left there to wonder what is going on for as long as it takes.

At the last visit it took more than two hours and about 10 attempts at finding a vein before the nurse knocked the needle out anyway but at the end the news was good, the cancer hadn't grown.

Amidst all of this is the gut-ripping nausea, from chemotherapy, that keeps you on a constant feed of different drugs, none of which work too well most days.

These regular processes, the reminders that cancer is inside me, are my frustration and my necessary schedule amidst a lot of fear.

I am getting married to the woman of my dreams on September 5.

A few days after being diagnosed with brain cancer, I borrowed mum's sapphire ring and knelt down in the hospital's chapel. Bec thought I was falling over, my balance blown from surgery, but I begged her for patience.

"Will you marry me?"

"You already know the answer."

"Well can I hear it then?"

We were told to bring the wedding forward and are already planning to renew our vows on the day we initially planned to wed late next year.

Sometimes I am angry, other times sad but this I know.

Desperately; with hunger, determination and struggle, I am living a life of no regrets and most definitely our wedding is a part of that.

We've invited the long-lost aunty and the mates we haven't seen in years; having cancer hands an extra urgency to everything. It also seems to give you extra rights, extra legitimacy to do outrageous things.

I have recurring memories of being dunked by waves on the NSW south coast where I spent my childhood nearly drowning and spitting out sand.

Despite the pain in my back from a biopsy on my spine, I am going to drive down the mountains from Canberra to the sand and let one giant wave hit me, drag me under the white foam and bash me.

It's a silly memory, I know, but I would regret not doing it if it is to be for one last time. I don't want to jump out of a plane, sail around the world or climb Mount Everest but I fear spending my final months on the couch watching daytime TV through an inability to make decisions, a fear of moving.

My counsellor - a specialised cancer patient counsellor - must deal with the most harrowing stories every day, and encouraged my life of no regrets. She has had to harshly remind me the likely outcome of all of this is death.

Live a life of no regrets. Don't die wondering.

Even when life is consumed by thoughts of death, of leaving my most loved, of lying in a coffin, of being lowered six feet, there are ways of smiling.

Old, silly jokes still bring a smile to my face and the sight of just about any dog makes me joyous from a childhood spent spilling all my secrets to my loyal blue heeler Bert.

There is one final wish I haven't mentioned.

To live.

I pray at night, asking my God the seeming simplest of questions: "Will you save me?" I haven't heard back yet.

I often ask myself, what about those times when I'm not fulfilling a wish, not doing something on the bucket list?

There are times spent watching inane night-time TV and putting a load of washing on or, like last week, returning a broken vacuum cleaner for replacement.

These aren't things you dream of doing when your life is given a shortened deadline.

The mundaneness of life continues even when you're dying.