Willy’s Story

My husband Willy, 35-years young, was the most genuine man you could ever meet, a real family man and friend to many many people. Willy was raised on the Chatham Islands and had a huge passion for the sea and riding motorbikes, free diving for paua or out with his spear gun collecting butterfish on the Kaikoura coast. He loved to cook too and all our family gatherings he put together a banquet of seafood and homemade treats made by him.

Willy had everything going for him, an amazing bunch of friends, a great job that allowed him to spend a lot of time with our two young sons Rocco and Roman (2 & 4). He absolutely loved life and lived it to the fullest, he had found the perfect balance of work and life. He loved to party hard too with a rum in one hand and a ciggy in the other he was the life of the party. You could always hear his distinctive big belly laugh anywhere he was.

In March 2020 Willy and I spent the day collecting firewood, not just any firewood I’m talking big round tree trunk pieces that Willy would later chainsaw. The last piece of wood Willy lifted he felt like he put his back out, and he hobbled around for the next week nursing his sore back.

In the next week Willy’s health took a very drastic turn for the worse and as the country was preparing to go into lockdown, I had to call an ambulance as Willy could hardly move and was in so much pain he was dripping in sweat.  His pain was extremely hard to manage, and it was thought he had a spinal infection.

Two days later the Doctors were still struggling to get Willy’s pain managed and we found out he had bowel cancer but with surgery he would recover well and live a normal life. Unfortunately, as the days passed his diagnosis was getting more and more serious, after scans and tests we found out the cancer was not only extremely advanced it had spread to his spine as well as several lymph nodes.

On the 21 of April 2020 because of COVID we had to have a phone consultation with Willy’s oncologist, and she explained that his cancer activity was one of the highest they had ever seen. After having a spinal biopsy done the results showed Willy had a rare type of cancer, Mutant Braf, and he was given 3 weeks to live. There was no way he would survive this disease. We sat on the edge of our bed holding each other and crying our eyes out trying to get our heads around this news. Our beautiful life with our two young sons we had created was about to fall apart.

Willy w.as given 3 options. Try a little dose of Chemo and it may not do anything. Not have any Chemo and potentially die in the next few weeks. Or lastly get a full dose of Chemo but risk dying while it is administered or shortly after. Willy decided the full dose of Chemo was his best chance to get more time so that’s what he did.

We managed to get Willy onto some chemotherapy in the next few days after many blood transfusions to get his blood levels up high enough. Miraculously this chemo did work for a few short months. This enabled us to live a relatively normal life spending every moment we could with each other and our two sons making as many memories we could on the days that Willy felt well enough.

But before too long the cancer activity started to climb and Willy’s bone marrow was failing to produce blood again. We were at the hospital every 3 days for blood and platelet transfusions to keep him alive. A telltale sign for Willy was when his nose started bleeding his blood levels were dropping very low and he needed to get to hospital asap, so I always got anxiety when I saw his nose dripping.

Willy and I were outside the hospital after an appointment with his oncologist in November 2020 when his arm went limp and he started slurring. He was having a stroke, I panicked and yelled out for someone to help us. Willy said stop let’s just wait a few minutes and see if it passes, which it did, and his body returned to normal. He refused to go back to hospital to get checked over and I supported his choice, he was sick of spending time in hospital when his time was running out and he just wanted to be at home with me and the boys and not be stuck in hospital for a few days being observed. His medical team were not impressed when I told them what happened, but I had to let Willy be in control and go with whatever decisions he made.

Willy had the most positive attitude throughout his short battle giving Video updates to his many friends back home on the Chats and his many friends overseas, he was absolutely fearless, accepted his fate with such courage and was determined to live as long as he could for me and our boys. Willys mental strength was truly inspiring, sharing everything he was going through, being open honest and raw about his feelings, he wanted people to see firsthand how incredibly short life can be and to treasure the people you love and make the most of everyday.

Willy was more worried about how I would manage bringing up our two sons without him than the fact that he was dying.

He was a true warrior. The pain Willy endured during this illness was next level, but never once did he complain. I could see by his face how uncomfortable he was, but he still managed to smile. I always knew the pain was really bad when he said, ‘love you need to call an ambulance now’.

Willy’s fighting spirit lasted right till the end. Eventually his blood levels dropped dangerously low, he wanted one last lot of blood transfusions so he could get another couple of days with his sons. I will never forget the afternoon he kissed and hugged our boys for the last time, waving them goodbye and the boys saying, ‘bye dadda we love you’. Willy was very aware of his surroundings and was walking on his last day even though it was excruciating on his hip bones and back. He still had his sense of humour too.

That night at around 10pm Willy chatted with me, told me he loved me and squeezed my hand, he passed away 5 hours later with me by his side 296 days after being diagnosed.

Looking back Willy had always had bowel issues and he put it down to intolerance to certain foods and he just avoided what didn’t agree with him. Possibly if Willy had been to the doctor, we could have caught it a bit sooner. But it was evident that Willy’s bowel cancer had been growing for up to 10 years prior. He also had a couple of occasions when his body with tingle all over, but we put it down to him working long 14-hour days and being extremely tired. After a feed and a days rest, he felt good again.

Willys death has left a huge hole in our lives and even almost 3 years on it hurts immensely that our beautiful wee family is missing the biggest piece of the puzzle.

Seeing the love of my life in his prime loose his battle with cancer was extremely hard and heartbreaking there was so much sadness. Willy and I always had a very close bond and that just got even more close as we stuck together on those very hard days never knowing when it would be his last.

The journey as a widow with young children is incredibly hard we are not brave or strong, this journey is heavy and we simply have no choice but to carry on, mending our hearts along the way.

Amelia, Rocco & Roman x