Life isn’t fair. But it is worth cherishing every second. No family puts this into perspective quite like the Chivers family.
In March this year, Melbourne mum Sara Chivers was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. As she prepared to say goodbye to her two young boys, Sara and her husband, Leigh were hit with another devastating blow – their youngest son, Alfie, also has brain cancer. And, like his mum’s, his cancer is aggressive and terminal.
For any parent, this story is a hard one to read. For Sara, this isn’t just a story. It’s her reality. And she is living it with incredible composure, courage and dignity.
Sara’s battle with brain cancer
For the past nine years, Sara had been cancer-free. After being diagnosed with Anaplastic Astrocytoma at the age of 25, Sara underwent three surgeries as well as radiotherapy to be in the clear. Her cancer was gone. And she was free to start a family.
However, in March 2017, Sara received the devastating news that her cancer has returned. This time, she isn’t going to win the fight. This time, the cancer is terminal.
Knowing that you are going to die, that you have to leave your children behind, that you won’t be able to watch them grow up – these thoughts are almost too much to comprehend.
Those little things we take for granted – baking birthday cakes, walking the kids to their first day of school, helping them with their homework, teaching them how to ride a bike. These are the things Sara may never experience. And it is beyond heartbreaking to even think about.
“It’s just devastation and a lot of grief,” Sara and Leigh recently told ABC’s 7.30. “It’s just horrible, absolutely horrible.”
Sara immediately started treatment to hopefully buy her some time. Due to the tumour, Sara was paralysed in one arm but she had surgery in October 2017 to have the largest tumour removed and give her some mobility back.
It was around this time that she noticed Alfie getting sick. At first Sara and Leigh put the symptoms down to teething or an infection, but soon they noticed Alfie, too, was losing mobility on one side.
“He was just crying like a baby, but had a little shake in his left arm” Sara recalls.
Sara’s biggest fears were coming true. After a trip to the ER and a scan, doctors confirmed that Alfie had a tumour the size of a pear in his brain.
Alfie’s brain tumour, known as an atypical teratoid rhabdoid, is a completely different type of cancer from Sara’s. It is very rare and aggressive.
Unfortunately it is also terminal.
“He hasn’t even started life yet”
Alfie has already been through two surgeries and has a long road ahead. He will undergo further treatment over the next 12 months to give him the best chance possible. Meanwhile Leigh and Sara remain by his side, staying as strong as they possibly can for their little man.
“Alfie’s diagnosis has given me something else to fight for,” Sara said. “It’s not about me any more. It’s all about him.”
But, as we can all imagine, the impact of what this means for the family is never far from Sara or Leigh’s mind.
“To think that [Alfie] has to go through this journey, at 18 months old. It’s been so, so hard to see him go through that. You just don’t expect the worst scenario to keep happening over and over again.”
“What I want my boys to know when I’m gone”
No words can express what this tight knit family is going through. The heartbreak. The pain. The sadness. The fear of what’s to come.
But Sara remains as composed as she possibly can be, cherishing every day and focusing on what matters – making the most out of the time she has with her boys.
Recently she penned a letter to Hugh and Alfie, which, we will warn you now, may require a box of tissues by the end.
“Dear Hugh and Alfie,
I won’t be around to see you grow up. It’s a hard thing to say and even harder to face. You will have to hear from others the little things that made me me: my perfume of choice is Michael Kors, my favourite meal is spaghetti bolognese, winter is my preferred season. I wish I was a better cook. I’m a keeper of mementos – tiny hospital name tags, the poem Leigh wrote for my 21st birthday, first baby clothes.
I know your Dad, and our village of family and friends, will keep me alive for you as much as they can, but there are some things I want you to hear from me.
Don’t be afraid of expressing your emotions. I will never tire of hearing ‘I love you’ from Leigh, you boys, my family, friends.
Love hard. As they say, it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all. That’s how I feel about you both. Heartbroken doesn’t come close to describing the pain I feel at not being in your lives in the future, but I would never change or forego the time we have spent together and the immense joy you have brought me. You are without a doubt my proudest accomplishments
Pay attention to study but know there is so much more to school life than textbooks. Play team sports. Try a musical instrument. Learn a language.
Always try your best; I could never ask any more of you. Never fear failure – you will learn more from mistakes than successes. There’s never anything more certain than change so embrace it. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Travel as much as possible – it will shape who you are.
Be brave in your convictions and believe in yourself. Never tease or ridicule someone because they’re different to you. You will be a better person by surrounding yourself with people who will challenge your views and beliefs.
Remember to say please and thank you. Address your friends’ parents by Mrs, Ms or Mr unless told otherwise. Make your bed when you stay at other people’s houses, and always offer to clear their table and do the dishes.
Be kind to your dad. It won’t be easy for him raising you alone, but every decision he makes will be with your best interests at heart. He is an exceptional father and role model. Don’t let him doubt himself or the wonderful job he will do shaping you into the men I dream of you growing up to be.
Family comes first. We will always be there for you to fall back on regardless of any mistakes or bad choices, and will help you through tough times and to celebrate life’s wins.
There will come a time when he wants to find happiness again with a new partner.’ Accept and embrace his choice, and know she will be a positive female influence in your lives too. I have absolute faith that he will make the right decision, for him and you both, and I hope she enriches your lives as much as you’ve all enriched mine.
Your Dad is the most admirable, courageous man I have ever known. He is my companion, my rock, my everything. He has shown true grit in the face of our adversities, and without him beside me I would have crumbled.
I will be forever grateful for the time we spent together, the memories we created, the love we shared. It was always him. Always will be.
“Horrible and heartbreaking”
Sara’s friends have set up a GoFundMe page to help with the costs involved in fighting cancer and making the little time they have left together as memorable as possible. Sara is also raising awareness for the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation, hoping they can raise the funds to find a cure and to help other families going through a similar struggle.
The family are hoping to raise $100,000 and are close to their goal. You can donate through GoFundMe and read more about this family’s heartbreaking journey ahead.
Stories like this break our hearts. But they also remind us just how important our time with our kids really is. Hug your little ones closer. Give them one more kiss. Read them one more story. And keep this brave family in your prayers.