Village Stories – Jess & Kym

Kym and Jess, both originally from Tasmania, had been living and working in Melbourne for 12 years. As the years passed this gregarious couple formed…

Kym and Jess, both originally from Tasmania, had been living and working in Melbourne for 12 years. As the years passed this gregarious couple formed new friendships, had two gorgeous children and life was rolling along. In all that time, Kym had never been sick, he hadn’t needed to see a doctor. Then one day he felt a lump and their lives were turned upside down. This is the story of how they survived those long months of diagnosis and treatment, how their friends and family rallied around them and how the funny little moments kept them laughing throughout.

Who lives here?
Jess, Kym, Harrison (Harry) and Chloe.

What does a day in the life of your family look like? 
Jess – A normal weekday would involve Kym getting up early and heading to work. I’ll get the kids ready, walk them to kinder and school and then start work. We made a conscious decision to prioritise quality time as a family and our health, so I now work three days per week, mainly from home. I pick up Harry [after school], take him to a café or something fun and then go and get Chloe from kinder. Then I’ll make dinner and we’ll normally do some sort of activity, Kym or I might do some exercise when he gets home. That’s pretty much a normal sort of weekday for us.

Can you tell us a bit about the journey you have travelled over the last couple of years?
Kym – Yeah, well I guess we had a bit of a life-changing thing happen a couple of years ago. It was August 2017 and I had a health scare. I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Jess – [Kym] came to me on the Friday night and he said, “I think I’ve found a lump, I’ve booked an appointment with the doctor and will get it checked out tomorrow.” I remember thinking, I’m not going to panic as it might not be anything serious. The kids had been invited to a good friend’s birthday party the following day so we decided that I’d still take them, and Kym would go to the GP. The doctor referred Kym to get some tests the following Monday. On Tuesday Kym called me at work to say, “the results of the tests suggest that I’ve got testicular cancer and they’ve recommended I get it operated on ASAP”, and by Wednesday he was in hospital having surgery.

Kym – The surgery went well, and I was back at work within a week or so thinking and hoping that life was back to normal. In October or so, I had some follow up blood testing as they didn’t know whether the surgery had got all the cancer but unfortunately the results showed the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I had to go through three months of chemo. We were advised to start it straight away which meant that it would continue through the Christmas break. It just came very much out of the blue.

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Did you feel unwell before the diagnosis?
Kym – No, not at all. I just felt a lump. But then I had the joy of seeing a GP for the first time. I hadn’t seen a GP in Melbourne at all! First time I went to see my local GP and I had to say: “Sorry, but would you mind checking this out for me?” I just had never been sick. Once the chemo started, I had periods where I didn’t feel too great. Work was really good and said to take as much time off as I needed. I was really tired, lost my appetite and didn’t feel like doing a lot…

Jess – My employer was really supportive and I took carers leave while Kym had chemo. I couldn’t even process being busy [at work] when we had so much going on. There was a lot to process – attending all the appointments, getting used to all the terminology, getting our heads around the research, but also trying not to do too much research.

Who did you call on for help? Who was your village?
Kym – Our families were awesome. I remember the day that I found out from the doctor I rang Mum and Dad and told them. They were obviously shocked. But…

Jess – [Kym’s mum Judy] was on a plane from Launceston within a couple of hours.

Kym – Yeah, she came over to help look after the kids and help us in any way she could while I was going through chemo. Our friends over here and Jess’ sister and mother’s group were phenomenal too.

Jess – My group of girlfriends were amazing during that time; we’ve all been friends for 15 years, so it was just overwhelming when they put together a generous support package… The Dinner Ladies (food vouchers) and babysitting support. Everything just sort of arrived on our doorstep…

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Can you tell us one time when someone did exactly what you needed?
Jess – If someone had asked, “What can we do to help?” we probably would have said “we are fine, we’ve got Judy here,” but I found it hard to get my head around what we needed with everything that was going on. I think what our friends and family provided meant not having to even think about certain things, such as dinners. My mother’s group [gave us] frozen dinners for the kids, and a voucher for a clothes washing service. I just wanted everything to be calm to give Kym the best chance to recover and I think the support we had really helped with this. I remember one time, one of my friends from my mother’s group, texted me to say, “I’ve just been to South Melbourne market so I’ve bought you a massive box of fruit and veggies and they are on the front door.” That was something that we really needed, and it was just there.

Kym – The thing that struck me so much and probably the most emotional thing for me at that time was the support package that our friends provided for us. Knowing that Jess had her sister, her mother’s group and her friends as support during this time was just awesome for me because it meant that I could focus on what I needed to get through myself. For our village to be able to keep Jess going through it all and help look after the kids and provide food and support; that was a game-changer.

When things weren’t easy. Was there a moment that made you laugh or see the brighter side?
Kym – Having kids around. They don’t care about any of that stuff [like losing your hair] so some of what they would say and do would make me laugh. I remember Chloe offering me some of her hair at one stage.

Jess – They were 2 and 4 at the time

Kym – [It was] a blessing I suppose that they were so young, they didn’t fully understand what we were going through. They didn’t really get upset or understand why I was feeling unwell and seeing them be their usual selves would put a smile on our faces.

Was it important to keep things as normal as possible for you and the kids?
Kym – Yes, at the time we were looking to move house as our old house was getting too small for our family of four. We ended up buying our current house a week after I finished chemo.

Jess – I can’t believe we were looking for houses when he was so unwell! We had been looking for the whole year before, so to keep things as normal as possible we continued house hunting. We just kept rolling with life. [Kym] was pretty fatigued for a while after chemo and then he started renovating this house. He ripped out the whole kitchen and put in a new one and he did an amazing job. He wasn’t firing on all cylinders but he just powered through… Kym’s a bit stoic, he just powers through.

What does a typical Sunday look like for you now that life has returned to normal?
Jess – One day Kym asked if Harry wanted toast for breakfast, but he was adamant “let’s do pancakes, Dad.” So now, a typical Sunday brekkie always involves pancakes.

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