Coming face-to-face with the end
In September Ken Turner learned he had inoperable pancreatic cancer and had a month to live. His reaction was to hold a wake, marry his soulmate Sarah and talk to the media. The couple talk to about Ken’s final days.
Ken Turner looks out through eyes that are yellow, as he struggles to get out his words. He knows he is close to death. The doctors told him as much on Wednesday, when they said he had days left.
He’s not afraid though. He believes ‘‘when your number is up, your number is up’’, and he knows how he wants to go.
‘‘I want to be with my soul-mate. I want to die with her in her arms.’’
Leaving his new wife, Sarah, and her two children Quinn,12, and Noah, 9, is his biggest regret. The couple married last month, after his September diagnosis.
‘‘I am not scared, I never have been. My belief has always been that when your number is up, your number is up. We all live and we all die.’’
The 52-year-old suggests Sarah should do the talking and in moments where he is fully alert, he finds the strength to kiss her on the lips.
He was told on September 12 that he had an aggressive form of cancer and had just a month to live. With time running out he was determined to do as much as he could and enjoy life. As well as marrying Sarah, he held a public wake, where his mates told Ken what they thought of him.
He met Sarah two years ago online and the pair have been inseparable ever since.
Watching Ken fade away has been tough on his mother, Maria MoniRowlinson, who flew in from Australia. The 73-year-old has four sons and fights back the tears, as she notes Ken had always been special to her.
‘‘I don’t like the idea of him dying before me. I just wish I could take all that pain for him. He was my favourite… maybe you should not put that in the paper but he was always there for me.’’
Sarah is worried about how her sons are going to deal with Ken’s death. Te Omanga Hospice has provided counselling but it is a hard situation for a nine and 12-year-old to understand.
For Quinn, it will only be the second time he has encountered death. ‘‘It is really sad,’’ he says. Noah is too upset to speak about it.
Sarah’s strategy is to focus on the positive. ’’I have told them that this is not the end. He is just going to another level. They believe that Ken is going to the angels.’’
Sad is not a word that either Sarah or Ken use. She describes Ken as someone who lived a good life, working in Australia, Los Angles and Mexico, mostly in the construction industry. He has six daughters.
The pair started their own construction business a year ago, specialising in fencing and driveways. But not long after Ken felt unwell.
Doctors told him it might be an ulcer and advised him to drink less. When he collapsed one night at home, he knew something was seriously wrong. Given how unwell he felt, he was not surprised to be told that his life was about to end.
Sarah supported his subsequent decision to go public and talk to the media about his death. It helped her cope with losing the man she expected to live the rest of her life with.
The reaction to his ‘‘living wake’’ and the media publicity around their marriage has been an eye opener for her. ’’I have had so many people tell me Ken is an inspiration.’’
Ken’s ‘‘second love’’ is motorbikes, especially Harley Davidsons. Three weeks ago he went for his last ride on his beloved Hog and even that proved inspirational. A close friend had a son badly injured in a car crash, who 11 months later remains in a coma. Unable to get back on to her motorcycle after the accident, she went for a ride after seeing what Ken had done.
Sarah has had a lot to deal with and she is not sure how she would have coped without the hospice. ‘‘The nurses are just lovely. I did not realise they were 24-7 but I suppose they have to be.’’
With the hospice’s support, Ken can achieve his wish of dying at home after Te Omanga provided a special bed and equipment.
The hospice is currently being rebuilt and Sarah hopes the community supports its $10 million appeal generously.
The most valuable lesson learned from Ken is his positivity. Watching him deal with his pending death has given Sarah the motivation to carry on.
She ‘‘feels blessed’’ Ken did not die suddenly and they were able to marry and celebrate his life. Ken slowly brings out his cell phone. When he finds the picture he was looking for it, it is the coffin he has designed for his funeral. It features the Harley Davidson logo and a picture of him holding Sarah.
Ken smiles as he notes they are the two things that matter to him the most and he is ready to die.