A labour of love completed
Cancer couldn’t stop one couple bringing a run-down house back to life.
Arat and flea-riddled bungalow in the middle of the Waitakeres was an unlikely setting for romance. But in committing to the “doerupper”, Lee Rush and Paul Farrow committed to living out the final days of their love story side by side.
“Paul said, ‘Let’s make this our project, because she’s got good bones and she’s beautiful. Let’s bring this back to life’,” Rush said.
After nine bottles of sugar soap and four coats of meringue-white paint, the bungalow started to come alive. However, by the time the years-long renovation project concluded with the help of the community this weekend, Rush was near death.
The couple, both paramedics, met at work. She was smitten after watching him with patients. Three months after the pair got together she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was September 11, 2012.
Treatment was gruelling: Radiation, chemotherapy, a bi-lateral mastectomy, and hormone treatment. Eventually, Rush was given the allclear and the couple found the dilapidated house, looking for a project that had nothing to do with cancer.
The house was a tip. It smelled like urine. “Like four dogs had died in there,” Rush says.
“When we went there it was thunder and lightning and I said to Paul, ‘It’s a sign, it’s a sign.’ When we left, I said, ‘At least we won’t be owning that shithole’.”
A day later they bought it. They liked that the home was built in 1975 — Rush’s birth year.
The couple filled skips with rubbish and slept in the lounge while slowly transforming it.
Rush wanted Farrow to have his dream home: “This man had nursed me through cancer so I figured, he deserves something he wanted.”
Amid the licks of paint and scrubbing Rush was in pain. While Rush and Farrow had been busy repairing the bones of the bungalow, cancer had crept into hers. A year ago she was given six months to live. The renovations went on the back burner — until yesterday.
Thanks to local man Paul Treneary and his partner Sophie Frowde, the couple will live out the rest of their love story in a fully finished home. Treneary met paramedic Farrow during his own health battle and learned the couple was achingly close to finishing the renovation — a master bedroom and en suite the only things left to build.
This week, a call out to the West Auckland community by Frowde was answered by builders, plumbers, electricians, alarm-installers, painters, landscapers, carpet layers, and local businesses who donated food and drink for volunteers. Mitre 10 Westgate gave building materials, and a barbecue.
When the Herald on Sunday visited yesterday, the renovation came full circle with the downpour no dampener for the scores of tradies who bustled around Rush’s bedside.
One by one they introduced themselves, asking things like which carpet colour she preferred — Muriwai driftwood or sand — and how she liked the barbecue.
As she tried to formulate the words to express her gratitude another volunteer would arrive, she says.
Farrow said the generosity was “surreal”. “I’m lost for words.”
The bungalow, filled with love and light, is where Rush expects to live out her final days, cared for by Farrow and her sister full time. Pictures on her phone show its progress, and her “lasts” — the last time she was able to stand on the balcony, the last time she had a spa in the bush.
At night Farrow sleeps as close as he can to Rush’s hospital bed. She says they hold hands, have a kiss and cuddle and count their blessings, looking forward to the next day.
“I would not wish for another life,” Rush says. “I would wish myself well but I wouldn’t wish another life from the one I have because the one I have is really, really beautiful.
“Look at this stud of a man. He has been my best friend.”
“I wouldn’t wish for another life because the one I have is beautiful.”
Paul Farrow and Lee Rush in the once-dilapidated Waitakere bungalow they renovated with the help of volunteers.