After losing their daughter Brooke, her parents, Karl and Olivia, found that by sharing Brooke’s story it helped kept their daughter’s memory alive.
Diagnosis and treatment
Karl: We found out over the years, that doctors give you the worst-case scenario up front.
The next day, the surgeons removed a tumour the size of a golf ball. After Brooke’s surgery and twelve months of intensive chemotherapy, she reached remission and returned home.
Olivia: When Brooke was five, life had begun to settle. We were only going to the hospital for routine six-monthly scans. Then we got a call – Brooke had another tumour. The surgeons removed it, and she then went through six weeks of daily radiotherapy. Brooke reached remission again. She had a shunt in her brain, impaired hearing and learning difficulties. But she never, ever let it get her down.”
Karl: Brooke was such a courageous, loving and selfless young lady. She never gave up hope,” remembers Karl.
‘Baked by Brooke’
Olivia: She was an avid baker, she’d bake birthday cakes for her friends from school. It came from when she was struggling with her reading in primary school, and we were looking at different ways of helping her through school, and she just took on baking with a passion.
She made cupcakes every week to raise funds for the swimming club. She used to make a dozen cupcakes every Monday for club night and they were sold before she even got there. It wasn’t just as a fundraising thing, that was Brooke loving her baking.
When her sister Rochelle moved out, we converted her old bedroom into an office for Brooke, and created a logo and a business card for her. It was things like that that kept us busy and took her mind off all the other stuff. Her business name was ‘BBB’ – Baked by Brooke.’
Karl: We just went back to the grind of three monthly check ups, scans ectara. Time just went by and… you just want to put all that behind you. She went from five years to ten years of age. Basically, she’s in remission, and you just have to go to the late effects clinic. We thought: ‘Wow, we were the lucky ones, because only one in five children survives brain cancer for more than five years.’
Just before Brooke’s fourteenth birthday, she began having headaches and problems with her vision and balance. We were told to take her straight to Emergency.
Olivia: I can see it now – vividly – just watching the doctor walking in. He didn’t know what to say.
Karl: He walked up to me and just grabbed me and hugged me. Brooke had a DIPG, a major tumour in her brain stem. She had between 9 – 12 months to live.
We were honest with Brooke, and I know she trusted us. It was about how do we get Brooke from this critical state now to doing the things she wanted to do? She wanted to bake, she loved the footy and she wanted to go to school. It became our mission to try to do that for her.
Our eldest daughter, Rochelle, got engaged while Brooke was sick. Rochelle and her fiancé Daniel wanted Brooke to be part of the wedding.
Knowing we didn’t have much time, the wedding was planned in eight weeks and Brooke was able to walk down the aisle as a bridesmaid on the day.
It was only a week after the wedding and just three months before Brooke’s passing that she could no longer walk at all. Determination and will got her down the aisle.
On New Year’s Eve, Brooke was admitted to hospital. The family stayed with her, friends came to be by her side, and on 4 January she died, aged 15.
Support from Redkite
Karl: We both found that during difficult times, support came from many sources, including professionals, our church community, and each other. I also received support from a Redkite social worker.
After Brooke’s passing, Redkite provided us a book about parents who had lost children and was particularly helpful. Reading about the thoughts and feelings of others made me feel less alone and I realised I wasn’t the only person going through this. It wasn’t abnormal for me to be having these thoughts.
As a man I was initially too proud to ask for help. I thought I didn’t need to see a counsellor and I could deal with things myself, but I’m just so glad I got the help that I did.
All my focus was on looking after Brooke, when your child is sick it’s all that matters and you can neglect your own and your wife’s wellbeing. It’s such a help to talk to someone who is speaking to people in your situation every day.
I also needed to stop working and spend time with Brooke – I didn’t want to have any regrets after she passed away. Redkite’s Financial Assistance program helped us pay for groceries and petrol, utility bills, even funeral expenses.
Olivia: I found the palliative care team coming in quite early – which was very overwhelming to start with – was a wonderful thing to have actually, when you sit back and look at that.
Our church community, they were amazing as well. The youth group there, they would make sure there were meals coming to the hospital for us, if there was washing or ironing to be done or any of those things.
The social worker at the hospital was also able to support Rochelle by liaising with her university.
Keeping Brooke’s memory alive
Karl: Many marriages don’t survive the loss of a child, but we’ve been fortunate to come out the other side of this understanding each other and realising that we both deal with things differently and accepting that. Our relationship has grown so much; we depend on each other to get through each day.
This is medicine for us. By sharing Brooke’s story we keep her memory alive. She had to endure so much suffering in her short 15 years of life but never complained about it. Our children are so much stronger than we could ever imagine.
Karl: That’s the way we get through life now, by keeping those memories alive. We talk about her every day, don’t we?
Olivia: Yes, we talk about her every day.
Olivia and I feel we’re now ready to move into the next phase of our life and we want to raise awareness of children’s’ cancer. It’s so under-funded and under-recognised; children don’t have a voice. We want to give back to the organisations that have helped us, and continue to help us.