In February 2014, Tony and Christine Bull received a devastating call from Hilary, Tony’s sister. Hilary, affectionately known as Hilz, was living in England and had been for the best part of 30 years. Hilz told them she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the outcome was grim, there was very little they could do, and she wanted to come home.
Tony and Christine, like most people, had little idea of what to expect with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. They set forth to research on the internet, made appointments with doctors and specialists, and organised their home for Hilz's arrival. What they learned was harrowing and it was difficult to get their heads around the fact that this had happened to a woman who went to hot yoga and walked for an hour every single day, ate well, had a fabulous body, and was an incredibly fit and vibrant 53 year old.
That her cancer was so advanced was especially shocking, given her symptoms had been so minor. Her illness had started off as nothing more than an upset stomach, some indigestion and then a nagging pain in her lower back. Given the stage of her cancer, not a lot could be done for Hilz's disease, but whatever the doctors had to throw at it, Hilz was prepared to take. She was not going to give up without a fight and had the mind set that she could beat it. And fight she certainly did, she clung onto life with a will as strong as a thousand lions and she tried very hard to beat the dreadful disease.
After four rounds of chemotherapy and many visits to the doctor, Auckland Hospital, copious amounts of pills and time in Hospice, pancreatic cancer took Hilz, almost six months to the day of her diagnosis.
Chris and Tony have been left with a huge void in their lives, always struggling with the WHY Hilz? How can this happen to such a vivacious, healthy person? Why wasn’t this diagnosed earlier? And then the, “What can we do?”
Gastro-intestinal cancer is New Zealand's most common form of cancer, and sadly, it touched the Bulls' lives again in 2014. Within weeks of losing Hilz, another dear friend of Christine and Tony’s, Trish Beadle, a sporty, active, rock 'n' rolling wife and mother of four, in her 50’s, also passed away with a GI cancer.
From all of this, Chris and Tony have learned to value the life they have; to treasure the smallest of moments and to try very hard to slow down a little, but most of all to listen to their bodies and to be aware.
They also found an answer to the “What can we do?” question that had been nagging them. They decided to begin a fundraising venture called the 'Raising It' for Hilz luncheon to help raise awareness and funding for the Gastro-Intestinal Cancer Institute. They hope to raise the profile of gastro-intestinal cancer and support research that could benefit anyone who is faced with a diagnosis like Hilz's.
Below is a report from Christine and Tony.
The luncheon was organised to honour not just Hilary’s life but also Trish Beadle, who also died from a GI cancer. These two fabulous woman who were rocking 50, both full of life and vitality.
Nothing can replace either of them, but if we can acknowledge their lives by raising awareness around gastro-intestinal cancers, then just maybe, someone else’s life will be saved.
This mindset turned a negative into a positive. It gave everyone in the room a chance to give and to be part of something very special.There was a great deal of emotion in The Lounge that afternoon.
Bill Perry wrote a song for the day, called ‘Fading to Black’; Dr Ben Lawrence spoke about cancer research and the special women that Hilz and Trish were.
Guests enjoyed spot prizes from generous local business owners, along with a six-course luncheon, with matching Babich Wines. There was a rock ‘n’ roll demonstration, and music all day long by Bill Perry, Vladimir, and The Backbeats. The afternoon was rounded off with a silent auction and a very moving, live auction.
There were tears, there was laughter and there was sheer joy. It was a magical day, absolutely everything was sponsored by businesses from all over New Zealand. Each and every one of these contributions made a difference. Each and every guest who attended did so in the spirit of giving.
We are truly humbled and extremely proud to be donating $23,700 (and still rising), to the Gastro-Intestinal Cancer Institute of New Zealand.
For us personally the gift was in the enormous sense of caring and warmth received by so many from the sponsors to the volunteers on the day. For us Hilary will live on each year when we acknowledge the anniversary of her passing by organising a fundraiser, it was her bravery and strength that inspired us and we truly hope that this will help make a difference.. This was an incredibly healing experience, one we will cherish and we encourage you to do the same.
--Christine and Tony Bull
Adapted from 'Raising It' for Hilz, The Lounge