Brian ticks off his bucket list
When 33-year-old Brian Richards was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of stomach cancer in January this year and expressed a wish to go to the bush one last time, the team at Stepping Stone Hospice jumped into action to make it happen.
A true outdoorsman at heart, this former Boy Scout, competitive bass fisherman and trained field guide has a great love for the bush – of its “sounds and smells” and of the “peace and serenity it makes you feel.”
Brian only became symptomatic in November last year. Initially thinking it could be an ulcer, he went through a barrage of tests and a lengthy stay in hospital before the final diagnosis was made. “Unfortunately the type of cancer Brian has doesn’t usually show up until it’s severe,” explains his mom, Lynn, a long-time resident of Alberton. “He was given the option of chemotherapy, but it wasn’t going to be a cure. Instead, Brian has been very accepting of what is happening to him and has soldiered through.”
Brian was admitted to Stepping Stone Hospice’s In-Patient Unit in New Market Park on 23 January, and it was here that his wish to go to the bush became an urgent call to action. The saying ‘it takes a village’ was never more appropriate as people who knew people made calls and plans and preparations to get Brian to the bush in a matter of days.
Finally, armed with all that was needed to keep him stable and comfortable during his stay, including Stepping Stone’s own Clinical Services Manager Sr Sheryl Newman, the family headed off to the beautiful Milkwood Safari Lodge in Bela-Bela for a two-night stay.
“All Brian wanted was to see, feel and hear the bush,” explains Sr Sheryl. “We needed somewhere that was wheelchair-friendly, was easily accessible by road, that wasn’t too far to drive and that offered a space where Brian could literally lie and look into the bush. We even took his memory-foam mattress along to make sure he was as comfortable as possible.”
Sr Sheryl monitored Brian throughout the weekend and says that she got to see “unconditional love in action” as Brian’s family rallied around him. “I saw a family standing together to create a beautiful, loving environment for Brian. He was a part of everything – from conversations at the braai, to reminiscing around the fire pit, to watching a magnificent bush sunrise with the whole family. Even when he felt too ill or weak to leave his bed, he still had company, as well as a panoramic view of the bushveld. He knows what he’s facing and I feel that we would have been lacking not to answer this call – to deny him this experience.”
“Brian’s is a life we want to celebrate,” says Lynn. “We have been inviting people to visit him or to send him messages now, while he is alive. Every person we’ve heard from or seen has mentioned what an impact Brian has had on their lives. He has always had such a positive approach to life and he is a firm believer that happiness is a choice.”
Lynn goes on to say how grateful she is for Stepping Stone Hospice. “We knew that Brian needed help. It was becoming difficult to manage his pain and he was suffering from terrible back spasms. The relief he experienced after being admitted to Stepping Stone Hospice’s In-patient Unit was almost immediate. These earth angels have taken such good care of my son. And without their help, we could never have gotten him to the bush to say his goodbyes.”