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In 2018 a young Melbourne mum-of-two died of cancer. In a devastating twist, within months after Sara Chivers passed away at 34, her little boy Alfie, two, also died of a rare brain cancer.
Her husband Leigh became a single dad to the couple’s son now five-year-old son, Hugh.
At a time when everyone needs strategies for a world that has suddenly changed, Leigh is now sharing his story and talking about life without half his family and the ‘beautiful’ unexpected thing that has come out of it.
Here is Leigh Chiver’s story:
I suppose unfortunately what I’m known for is that back in 2017 I lost my wife Sara, who was 34 at the time and my son Alife who was two both to brain cancer within six months of each other.
I now live with my son Hugh who is five-years-old. I’m trying to rebuild my life after an almost-10 year battle with brain cancer starting back in 2008 when Sara first got diagnosed after collapsing at the media company where she worked.
Leigh with family before he devastating lost his wife and baby boy to cancer.
The doctor said, ‘we’ve found a mass on your brain and if we don’t do something you’re going to die.’ The effect was so shocking at only 25 to think her life could be over. It was the first time I felt my reality disappear and world flip on its head.
But she battled on and in the next six months had three craniotomys, eight weeks of chemotherapy. She recovered and got back to work but things were forever changed. We were living with constant anxiety and fear of it recurring.
We had the perfect wedding day she thought she’d never have, two kids under two, a renovation. Those years were pretty jam packed and it was the simple things we built over time we loved the most.
Sara was incredibly grateful for the experiences. She knew they weren’t guaranteed for her so she cherished every day.
In March 2017 we were moving to Queensland and Sara had a check up scan. She had three new inoperable, incurable tumours on her brain.
Sara and her sweet baby boy, Alfie at their Melbourne home in 2017.
Months later, Alfie started to appear unwell. Nausea, lack of appetite. I took him to emergency and he had a CT scan. The doctor came back in tears. She had found a pear shaped tumour in the centre of his brain, and it was a very difficult cancer from that point forward.
Alfie was in hospital for eight or nine months, had at least 11 surgeries. Sara was at a point where it was a matter of how much time she had and her motivation became to be there for Hugh and Alfie for as long as she could be.
Sara became known for her letter she wrote to her boys. It was for her kids to remember her by and to have a voice about what was happening for her. (Sara’s letter What I Want My Boys To Know When I’m Gone went viral and made global headlines. You can read it here).
She passed away in January 2018, and Alfie in June. When they were sick, my purpose was just to be there for them. I also tried to do one thing I just enjoyed. A run. Coffee with my wife. Playing with my boys.
Talking broadly about resilience, it’s hard to fall as low when you’re doing things you typically enjoy.
I read a book once and it said if you’re struggling, show up, ask questions, don’t quit. if you can do those three things you’ll keep moving forward.
Leigh says being a single dad to his son Hugh means he “new responsibilities” and he says he gives “more affection, more hugs and kisses.”
When this coronavirus started there was definitely a few weeks of not knowing what to do. To keep perspective and a positive mindset, the best I can say is probably gratitude. Write down good things that have happened and draw on that. You’ll feel a bit lighter afterwards.
Alfie being sick really challenged me. He would look at me, ‘It’s okay, dad’s here’, have trust, and we developed an incredibly close bond. I could read everything he felt.
You would never want something like this to make you realise it … but I wouldn’t have had such a great connection with him if I hadn’t gone through those circumstances.
Now that’s the sort of connection I’m building with Hugh. I have new responsibilities and it’s been a really beautiful thing for me to experience. I give more affection, more hugs and kisses.
I tell him I love him every night. Not that I wouldn’t already say it but he needs it and there’s such a realisation that if I don’t do it nobody will now.
That’s my purpose. I have to be Sara and Leigh. I have to be more.
The Coaching Institute’s founder Sharon Pearson chatted to Leigh Chivers on the Perspectives podcast How to get through hard times, by someone who really knows