17 DAYS - HOW LIFE CHANGED IN UN­DER 3 WEEKS FOR ONE LO­CAL FAM­ILY

In the space of less than three weeks, the lives of the Lealao­gata fam­ily were thrown into tur­moil. At just 28 years of age, Ip­swich res­i­dent Noa Lealao­gata had to say good­bye to his wife Ana, his three chil­dren, and his un­born fourth child who is due in

QT Magazine - - WELCOME - BY DAR­REN HALLESY

Noa Lealo­gata and Ana Tuala started dating when they were just 15 years old. They knew that they were made for each other even at a young age, and got mar­ried in 2009.

With three chil­dren al­ready, Kryon, 4, Lakyn, 3 and Aria, 2, the cou­ple were ex­cited to be ex­pect­ing their fourth child in De­cem­ber.

Then over win­ter this year, their lives changed for­ever when Noa started to feel un­well.

Noa worked at Bendigo Bank in the heart of the Ip­swich CBD, as the sole bread­win­ner for his grow­ing fam­ily. Af­ter go­ing to the emer­gency depart­ment at Ip­swich Hospi­tal, Noa was told he had bowel can­cer.

Doc­tors dis­cov­ered the can­cer had torn through his bowel wall, and spread through­out his liver. Doc­tors ini­tially started chemo­ther­apy but just two days later had to ad­mit the can­cer had spread too quickly, and there was noth­ing more they could do – and that fur­ther chemo treat­ments would make just things worse.

Just 17 days af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed, Noa lost his bat­tle, leav­ing a preg­nant Ana to raise three chil­dren, and car­ry­ing a child in the knowl­edge that he or she will never get to meet a fa­ther who lived for his fam­ily. He was only 28 years old.

Speak­ing from her home in Le­ich­hardt, Ana does what she has to do to get through each day, and is eter­nally grate­ful for the way the com­mu­nity and her fam­ily has ral­lied around her.

“We’ve just re­ceived so much sup­port it’s been over­whelm­ing,” Ana said.

“From the very be­gin­ning my main goal was to give back over time. Noa and I al­ways planned to move to the beach when the kids were a bit older, but I’ve had so much sup­port from this com­mu­nity I can’t con­sider leav­ing now.”

Noa was told in a very short time that there wasn’t much that could be done, and there was no in­di­ca­tion of his ill­ness.

“We found out on the first of Au­gust about the can­cer. He was in a lot of pain, as he had bad stom­ach pains. He knew it was se­ri­ous, he was in agony, and he called an am­bu­lance, which is not like him at all, he was al­ways very strong.

“His liver was mostly tu­mours. It had spread through the liver and even though we knew it was in­cur­able, we didn’t re­alise it would take him so quickly. It turns out he’d had the can­cer for over two and half years.

“Ev­ery few months he’d have stom­ach pains or headaches, but noth­ing that would ever make him think it was so se­ri­ous. He saw a GP last year and a few blood tests were taken, with no re­fer­rals to get scans or in­ves­ti­gate any­thing. Even the head doc­tor at the hospi­tal said that there was no way we would have known about it, it’s a silent killer.

“But even when he was in hospi­tal, in the first week he was determined to be here as long as he could, es­pe­cially for the birth of the baby. He wanted to be here for that, it was a big mo­ti­va­tion, but I knew from the first di­ag­no­sis and when I looked at him, I just knew he didn’t have long.

“I can’t ex­plain it, maybe as we just know each other so well. He was at peace with it though…as we both be­lieve we’ll see each other again, there is life af­ter death," Ana said.

“Even when he was in the hospi­tal, nurses would come in, or the clean­ers, and he’d say thank you with a smile. He stayed cheer­ful. Even though he was in so much pain, he still wanted to give to oth­ers. He wanted to get the mes­sage to all his friends and

fam­ily to get a health check when they can.”

Ana is now a sin­gle mum with three chil­dren and another on the way, but takes so­lace in her faith, and the sup­port of her fam­ily and friends.

“I’ve never done any­thing on my own, but I want to be the best par­ent I can be, as the kids have been through so much al­ready. They lost their grand­fa­ther last year and Noa sup­ported me through that. Noa’s mum also has can­cer, and he was in the mid­dle of sort­ing out her af­fairs when he got sick, but for­tu­nately the chemo is work­ing well for her.

“I guess my goal with the chil­dren is to keep them grounded, well-ad­justed and Noa’s wish was for me to help Lakyn with his speech ther­apy as he has autism. They’ve ad­justed well so far, even though they strug­gled at first, es­pe­cially see­ing him in the hospi­tal bed. They wanted to know why he was there.

“I’m just fo­cus­ing on them and I guess I’m griev­ing at night time when they are asleep. They’ve been good for me. Once the baby comes along at Christ­mas, I think it will get even more real and I’ll need some sup­port more than ever,” Ana said.

“One of my friends gave me some good ad­vice, and that’s to not have to rely on any­one, no mat­ter who they are. At the end of the day, no­body can help me in the mid­dle of the night with a baby, but know­ing they are there for me is such a big re­lief, but I don’t want to have to rely on them… if that makes sense.

“It’s im­por­tant to me to make sure the kids are sur­rounded by fam­ily and their dad can be re­mem­bered through them.”

Noa would go to Tower Cen­tral Café dur­ing the week and get his own spe­cial ver­sion of a burger. When he passed away the café re­named it The Noa Burger, and sales took off, with the café giv­ing a por­tion of each sale to the fam­ily.

Dur­ing the 2016 City Pride Cam­paign in The Queens­land Times, the burger was voted The Best Burger In Ip­swich, get­ting over 80% of the vote, and still sells well to this day.

“When they named the burger af­ter Noa, I was so grate­ful,” Ana said. “It’s over­whelm­ing, and I can’t get my head around it.

“There are pos­i­tives to be taken out of this, and I’m wait­ing for

my kids to make the choice about what path they take with their faith, as once they are on the same level as us, I think I’ll be more at peace with it, if that makes sense.

“For now, they are heart­bro­ken. We go to the ceme­tery ev­ery day. Noa was the glue of the fam­ily that held ev­ery­thing to­gether.”

Noa’s sis­ter Siniva Ni­u­mata said that her brother was ded­i­cated to fam­ily, and would of­ten help com­plete strangers when he could.

“Al­most ev­ery morn­ing, he would drop break­fast off to my par­ents’ house be­fore head­ing to work,” Siniva said.

“He would then call them through­out the day, to make sure they were okay or ask if they needed any­thing. I used to get an­noyed with his con­stant calls, ask­ing if we're okay or if we locked up the house at night prop­erly, or if we needed any­thing.

“Look­ing back now, I took his love and care for granted some­times and I re­gret it so much.

“I would give ev­ery­thing just to get one more phone call from him.

“He used to pack in­di­vid­ual bags of toi­letries and essen­tials in the boot of his car for when he would come across a home­less per­son – just the ba­sics like tooth­paste, tooth­brush, lo­tion, tis­sues, lit­tle first-aid kit, snacks, wa­ter and so on.

“He never felt dis­gusted or put off with the home­less, he would give them a big bear hug and tell them to take it easy and keep safe.

“As lov­ing and car­ing as he was with oth­ers, I wish he had been the same with him­self. He was so busy wor­ry­ing about ev­ery­one else. I urge ev­ery­one to put them­selves first, at least ev­ery 3-6 months, and get a health check. It is so im­por­tant.

“The hard­est part of this is know­ing that if Noa been checked ear­lier this year, the bowel can­cer might have been found in time and it would've been treated right away,” Siniva said.

“The only thing guar­an­teed in life, is death. Noa told us be­fore he left this mor­tal life, to leave the world a lit­tle bit bet­ter than how we found it. Do good, and be kind to oth­ers. I will hon­our his mem­ory by do­ing ex­actly that,” Siniva added.

For now, Ana Lealo­gata is tak­ing each day as it comes, as she pre­pares for the birth of her fourth child.

“It’s al­ways the good ones that get taken from us,” she said. “But I know that ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son.

“I be­lieve there is a higher pur­pose to all this and one day I’ll find out the an­swers.

“If we saw some­one strug­gling we’d try to em­pathise, and ev­ery­one that knows us knew we were hap­pily mar­ried but never boasted about it. We are ev­ery­day peo­ple, and al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated what we had.

“I have a deep re­spect for sin­gle moth­ers, which Noa also shared. He ad­mired those moth­ers do­ing it on their own, he ad­mired them. Now those words are com­ing back to me and give me strength when I’m strug­gling with the kids. Noa would sit me down at least once a week and tell me what a great job I was do­ing. He’d clean the house more than me most weeks!

“Ev­ery morn­ing he would go to his par­ents’ house with a fresh loaf of bread from the bak­ery, and we con­tinue to do that. It was some­thing that’s re­ally nice we wanted to do. They are just 10 min­utes away and my mum is only five, so we are lucky to have them close by.

“As a par­ent you just get on with it,” Ana said. “I don’t think I’d be the same per­son if I hadn’t been with Noa.

“He treated me so per­fectly the whole time we were to­gether. I know what to be grate­ful for.

“He ful­filled ev­ery role so well as a hus­band, brother, son and fa­ther. To be on his deathbed and be at peace with the way he had lived his life… that’s pretty amaz­ing.” Noa’s sis­ter Siniva has also set up a fundrais­ing page to sup­port the fam­ily and do­nate to Bowel Can­cer re­search. You can do­nate at www.gofundme.com and search for ‘Noa’.

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PHOTO: ROB WIL­LIAMS

Ana Lealao­gata with her chil­dren Ky­ron, Aria and Lakyn, who have to look to a fu­ture with­out the fa­ther and hus­band they love dearly.

PHOTO: NUR­TURED BY JEN 2012

Noa idolised his chil­dren and took pride in be­ing the best hus­band and fa­ther he could be.

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