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
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’.
Ana Lealaogata with her children Kyron, Aria and Lakyn, who have to look to a future without the father and husband they love dearly.
Noa idolised his children and took pride in being the best husband and father he could be.