Gary Wallace, better known as Gazza, is making the best of his borrowed time.
It was Christmas 2014 when he was living in Wanganui that he was diagnosed with kidney cancer discovered after he suffered an acute case of pancreatitis. He underwent a radical left nephrectomy (removal of his left kidney). “After that I carried on living my life. But unbeknown to me it was spreading through my body.”
A follow-up CT found lesions in his lungs which have turned into tumours, the 62-year-old says.
He was given two to three years to live. “They found the lung cancer three years and eight months ago. It’s now eight months after the lung cancer was diagnosed - and I’m still here.”
Just months ago, Gazza had been living in Palmerston North in a stressful environment, drinking too much and suffering from depression when Karen Rowe heard of his plight and offered him board with her in New Plymouth.
“She was looking for a flatmate so the timing was perfect.”
And he was able to transfer from the care of the Arohanui Hospice to that of Hospice Taranaki knowing his health is gradually deteriorating.
“Just recently I’ve found my breathing is not so easy. I got pneumonia six weeks ago and ended up in hospital.”
A nasal spray coupled with taking morphine tablets in the morning help control the pain. If he is having a bad day, he takes another pill at night. He is shortly to have a heart scan to see if the cancer has spread and if it has he will be prescribed further palliative medication.
Meanwhile, Gazza is focused on the positives. His job has enabled him to see much of the beautiful parts of New Zealand, he says. “I was a scaffolder for 30 years. It took me all around New Zealand to places I wouldn’t have ever seen.”
And he is determined to make the most of the time he has left.
“I understand there are people worse off than me. I’m feeling more passionate now because I’m still here. And if I can help just one person that would be great.”
When he was in Wanganui, he gave up drinking “while living in a pub” and decided to spend his spare money on buying yellow roses, giving them away to people along with chocolates as a “random act of kindness”. “Well I wasn’t drinking so I had to spend it on something.” A Wanganui community newspaper editor was so impressed with his thoughtfulness he published a story about him.
Gazza is keen to continue sharing his talents as an entertainer and brightening up people’s day. He is a published author of motivational poetry and also plays guitar and sings. Just a few of his favourite musicians are Cat Stevens, the Beatles and Elton John.
“I love writing crosskit poetry where you knit words into a poem.” He is rapt a collection of his poems, titled were published. “Not many people get the opportunity to do that. I’m very grateful people helped me to make things happen.” He gives a little back, donating $5 to the Cancer Society from each book sold.
He is now sharing his music and poems with those who attend the hospice day programmes at Te Rangimarie on Wednesdays and Fridays. “I sing songs and read some of my poems.”
He is full of praise for the day stay programmes where he has enjoyed listening to a wide variety of informative guest speakers. “We’ve had people in to talk about things like possum skins, making dolls, tai chi and greyhounds. And we are given beautiful meals. I’m not hungry when I come home. We have roasts and puddings. The other day we had shepherd’s pie and delicious fruit crumble and cream. And the morning teas are just as good as the lunches. The bacon and egg pie we had was almost as good as Karen’s!” he joked.
It was helpful that he was able to take a support person with him as he settled in to the day programme schedule. “Karen went with me for the first time.”
He benefits from community nurse visits and loan equipment to make life comfortable – all of which are free. A specialist bed is due to arrive soon.