Norman Talavera was a devoted father, partner and friend who had a bright future before being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of just 38.
His partner Ariana shares their story.
Norman was the lifeblood of our family. Growing up in Nicaragua, Central America, Norman was shaped by the experiences of his home country and always retained the passionate heart and spirit of a Latino. Always smiling, he had a wicked sense of humour, was light-hearted and forever the joker. Norman adapted to Australian culture and its expectations to the very best of his ability. We had a great life; we went on fabulous holidays and our lives were very full.
It was on the 17th of May 2018 that our world changed forever. After months of feeling lethargic and sick, Norman had reached the point where he could no longer ignore his declining health and booked an appointment with our local GP.
As I walked our children to school, Norman drove to the doctor. I knew he was worried, but I assured him that whatever it was that was making him unwell, the doctor would be able to fix it.
My phone rang sometime later. It was a friend, who also worked as a nurse at the health centre. I greeted her enthusiastically, but I could hear sadness in her voice as she told me that Norman had just received news that he might have pancreatic cancer.
We were thrown into a world that we could barely comprehend as more appointments were scheduled to confirm a diagnosis and devise a treatment plan for the future. We made the five-hour trip from home to Perth to meet with a team of specialists and following a CT scan and biopsy, Norman was confirmed to have stage four pancreatic cancer.
We had only just recently found out we were also expecting another baby.
Everything seemed to go on around us, except we found ourselves in an unwelcome and frightening place.
Looking back, Norman had been experiencing a handful of the symptoms related to pancreatic cancer for some time. On a camping trip months earlier, he had chronic indigestion that never went away. As the months progressed, the indigestion was mixed with constant lower back pain, exhaustion and an overwhelming sense of anxiousness that he couldn’t explain.
Due to the location of the tumour, Norman wasn’t able to have surgery and commenced an aggressive chemotherapy regime to fight the disease. Chemotherapy was cruel to Norman and it was difficult to watch. One of Norman’s most defining feature was his long dreadlocks which he lost as a result of the treatment. His initial round of chemotherapy lasted three months and within each cycle he only felt good for three days to engage in family life and other activities that were important to him. Despite trying to prolong his life, the treatment robbed us of valuable family time together.
We made a conscious decision early on, that we’d try and keep our day-to-day life as normal as possible for our children. We didn’t tell people he had cancer until we couldn’t hide any longer in order to protect the children, and ourselves from the pity. Thanks to the support of family and friends, we were able to juggle Norman’s treatment and keep our children connected within our local community and school.
Living in a regional location added an extra layer of complexity to our journey with pancreatic cancer. Each trip to our GP and local hospital was a three-hour return trip. We spent enormous amounts of time travelling to appointments with specialists and for treatment. Often, we’d have hours to talk about the journey before us, other times, Norman was too sick and slept. On occasions, we also flew to Perth for second opinions on treatment options – all adding significant expenses and time away from our young family who were being cared for by relatives at home.
As someone supporting a loved one living with cancer, you quickly become uncomfortably familiar with corridors of hospitals, waiting rooms and the glare of bright lights. I became Norman’s strongest advocate, giving him a voice when he was too weak to use his own. I spent endless hours researching, chasing up information, getting access to medical records, navigating the health system and seeking answers. Everything we did for Noman was the very best we could do at the time with the information that we had.
In the month before Norman passed away, I delivered our beautiful daughter in the same hospital where Norman was being cared for. Due to complications from the birth, I ended up in intensive care and was later moved onto a ward to be in a bed next to Norman. It was quite surreal having the same nursing staff attend to us for very different needs.
Within the last month, Norman’s cancer progressed quickly and rapidly spread. While we had been in Palliative care since diagnosis, we discovered how important they are and that we should have utilized them more, earlier. Having never been separated for more than a week at a time, we were apart – me at home with a newborn and our other children, Norman 1.5 hours away at the local hospital. We desperately wanted Norman at home with us during those last days, but it wasn’t possible because of the lack of at-home support services available to us in our hometown.
Norman passed away in February this year at the age of 39; nine months after his diagnosis and just 30 days after the birth of our daughter. Norman wished for more time. He wished he could see his children grow, he wished he could help others more. His death has left an unsurmountable hole in our lives and we miss him terribly.
We are slowly learning to live and breathe again. One of the most wonderful things we did after Norman was diagnosed, was to have some beautiful family photos taken before he got to sick. These photos are treasured to us and remind us daily of the wonderful partner, father and friend Norman was to those who loved him.
Ariana is passionate about raising awareness of pancreatic cancer and helping support other families caring for a loved one. She offers insights into their family’s journey through her personal blog, A World of Travel with Kids (https://worldoftravelswithkids.com/category/about-us/pancreatic-cancer/