In their daughter Stephanie’s memory, the Hayes family is finding slivers of light in the terrible darkness of grief since her life was snatched away by an undiagnosed childhood cancer.
An all-encompassing numbness overcame Timothy Hayes as he spoke with doctors after Stephanie, his 14-year-old daughter, had collapsed and suffered cardiac arrest during a sleepover at her friend’s house.
Paramedics managed to bring back a heartbeat, but scans at the hospital revealed a tumour the size of an orange between her heart and left lung. It had been growing fast over the last few months. Medical experts told Timothy and wife Keri-Anne there was nothing they could do.
Stephanie was 14-years-old when she passed away from cancer in June 2018.
Having not awoken since her collapse and after a stream of visitors farewelled their friend, relative, sister and daughter, two days later Stephanie was removed from life support. She passed away peacefully.
“At first that’s all you feel, just numb,” Timothy recalled. “Then it becomes the worst heartache you can possibly imagine."
"You can’t comprehend the way it feels. For a little while you run on adrenaline and that got us through the funeral. Then grief kicked in. I went back to work and tried to do normal things, but nothing is ever normal again.”
In the weeks leading up to her death, Stephanie had a cough. Her parents had taken her to two different doctors, both of whom suspected a cold, or perhaps a chest infection. But all the while the tumour was growing rapidly from her thymus gland.
Rays of light
Stephanie was a bright light to all who knew her. She loved to dance, particularly hip-hop and jazz. In her church, she was respected as a mature leader of younger children and the young men and women of the youth group also delighted in her company.
She was fond of the colour purple, of butterflies, and of the GWS Giants in the AFL. During one particularly memorable experience, Stephanie managed to have her photograph taken with AFL legend Jeremy Cameron, and she treasured a ball he gave her.
Stephanie (L) and Olivia (R) have their photo taken with GWS GIANTS forward Jeremy Cameron.
“In some ways we were glad she didn’t know what was going on in her chest,” Timothy said, revealing one of the small positives that he holds close in order to help cope with his enormous loss.
“It had grown for a few months and we all had no idea. So she never had to be scared, confused or worried about her life. It was as if God was protecting us.”
“And actually, the way it happened could have been much worse. If it happened at home her younger sister, Olivia, might have found her. Or if it happened as she walked home from the bus stop she might have died alone, at the side of the road. We were thankful that the paramedics brought her back after her collapse. It meant that we got to say goodbye to her, and so did her friends. It offered closure.”
The power of support
The support for Timothy, Keri-Anne and Olivia from their family and friends, their church and their daughters’ schools, was astounding, Timothy said. The church organised meals for the family for several months. Olivia and Stephanie’s schools offered counselling for students, as well as the use of their grounds and facilities for the wake, which incidentally, Stephanie’s high school’s hospitality students catered. Over 800 people attended Stephanie’s funeral, which was a testament to her popularity and standing in the community.
But despite all of the support and goodwill, the Hayes family suffered, and still suffers, more than they imagined possible. That’s what now fuels their desire to make a difference by supporting The Kids’ Cancer Project.
“Soon after Stephanie died I spoke with a friend who had also lost a daughter and he told me about the work done by The Kids’ Cancer Project,” said Timothy.
“I said that as soon as I was ready, I would raise funds for them.”
Read more: Col Classic 2019 Swim for Stephanie.
A keen swimmer, Timothy has completed the Cole Classic ocean swim every year for the past six years. He began with the one-kilometre event, graduated to the two-kilometre swim and now takes on the epic, five-kilometre ocean swim in the name of charity.
Olivia (L) and Stephanie (R) give their dad an encouraging hug at the start of the 2015 Cole Classic.
The event inspires him to train, and it keeps the memory of his beloved daughter bright and focussed in his mind’s eye.
“I had swum for charities in the past, but now it has become personal. It has become about my daughter,” he said. “If the funds I raise help to save just one family from going through what we have gone through, it will all be worth it.”
Words: Chris Sheedy.
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