Words to live by
Cancer patient and new dad Jared Noel shares with Ellie Gwilliam the legacy he’s leaving his daughter .
In this busy life, time on a friend’s couch simply talking and drinking tea is a rare treat. We watch the clock, squeeze in appointments and run to the call of our electronic reminders. If we do find time to visit, we aim for efficiency, and carefully keep watch so we are not intruding on our host’s schedule.
So, in mid-January 2014, as I sat on the couch of a couple I had just met, time weighed heavily on my mind. Because time to the Noel family is, by very definition, precious. It makes the concerns the rest of us have about lack of time seem trivial at best.
You may recognise Jared and Hannah Noel from the front page of The NZ Herald, or from 20/20, or as the faces of the most successful Givealittle fundraising campaign New Zealand has yet seen.
Because Jared Noel has paid a big price for time. But as I sat in their family room, my worries about encroaching were put at ease by two of the most gracious, generous, pragmatic yet still faithful and hopeful people I have ever had the privilege of meeting.
Both doctors, Jared and Hannah met through their medical studies. They quickly discovered they shared common dreams and married in 2007. Eleven months later, just after Jared’s fifth-year medical exams and just before the couple’s planned trip to Zambia for Jared’s medical elective, he was admitted to hospital with severe stomach pains. Africa plans were cancelled and Jared received his initial diagnosis — bowel cancer with a chance of surviving the next five years of only 40% with chemotherapy.
The news over the next few years didn’t get much better with the cancer spreading and Jared’s life expectancy reducing. Still, Jared and Hannah travelled, Jared completed med school, they cared for the sick in hospitals in New Zealand and abroad, they bought a house and, after a great deal of consideration, decided to pursue an IVF pregnancy.
The joy of their pregnancy and anticipation of their daughter’s arrival was marred last September by the devastating news that the cancer was growing aggressively in Jared’s liver and he would be unlikely to see 2014. Their baby girl was due in January, but meeting her was no longer a given for Jared. While not a cure, the unfunded (in Jared’s case) drug Avastin could buy more time, and friends quickly mounted a Givealittle campaign to raise the $60,000 required for Avastin treatment.
Within seven hours, friends, family and complete strangers from around the world had met the $60,000 target, but the generosity did not stop there. Donations poured in for the couple who were given more than double the amount needed for the prescribed 10 rounds of Avastin, leaving a surplus to provide financial assistance for the family in future.
By Christmas, test results showed that the Avastin treatment was working, with the tumour growth slowing down and the disease appearing stable.
On January 17th, Jared and Hannah welcomed their beautiful daughter Elise Alexandra Grace Noel into the world.
We asked them to share their story with OHbaby! readers because theirs is a tale of hope, and faith and living beyond ourselves. It’s about frustratingly awful sadness but overwhelming love. And that is why this story must be told.
Cancer, nil. Love wins.
Jared Noel, in his own words:
“Communicating and teaching your children your family values can be a challenge at the best of times; achieving this when you know it’s unlikely you will survive to your daughter’s first birthday seems next to impossible.
“Five years ago, I was diagnosed with metastatic bowel cancer, and after surgery and chemotherapy, I relapsed and became terminal. My life trajectory seemed to be mapped out, shorter than anyone would ever hope for or expect. But, for reasons that remain a mystery to both me and the medical profession, I have continued to live, while knowing that at any moment, I am only a heart beat away from finishing my journey in this life.
“For my wife Hannah and I, the decision to have a child was complex. It was prompted by the desire to start a family and cautioned by the implications should we be successful. In the end, we knew we would never regret having a child but there was plenty of room for regret had we not even tried. It breaks my heart that, bar the miraculous, I will miss most of my daughter’s childhood. I will not get to see her flourish as a person and I will not be able to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. It is with that breaking heart that I will do my best to leave her a legacy of who I am. I may not be able to leave her with memories, but I can leave her with the values I embrace, so she can appreciate who her father is.”
I cannot create a pithy saying or a three-word catch phrase to live by. Life, to me, seems far too complex to be abbreviated to such small word counts. Instead, I want to offer you a sense of identity, a sense of purpose and an understanding of where you came from, so you can then determine where you will go. The world is your oyster, to make of it what you will. My hope is to give you the opportunity to be the best you can be.
Having said this, ultimately any principle or ideal must still be communicated in words or they remain in the realm of the ethereal, never having concrete relevance. To that end, here is an attempt to communicate to you what matters to your family — as words to live by, and hopefully words to die by.
“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
As a family of faith, this verse expresses what matters most to us. Elise, we want to encourage you to live a life of mercy, justice and compassion. We want you to love others and to learn to put them first, especially those who are less fortunate than us. This is how you can make your mark on the world, by being part of the bigger picture of humanity, and this is how you can honour your loving God.
Read, learn and travel
Read widely and never stop learning. Travel to both the developed and developing worlds. Ask questions, challenge the status quo and discover that life in middle-class New Zealand is only how the privileged 5% of the world lives. Your mum and I believe that with this privilege comes responsibility; to use our time, wealth and skills to help others. Our world view, narrow or wide, is shaped by our upbringing and education. Reading, learning and travelling will broaden your horizons, develop an understanding of life and grow a respect for people of all faiths and ethnicities.
Pause, reflect, breathe
Life will be busy but we should always take time to pause, to reflect and to breathe; to look back on a journey past or ahead to a journey planned; to contemplate the complexities of politics or the simplicity of a plate of food. We hope you will learn to appreciate the small things so you then can appreciate the larger things even more.
It’s okay to cry when you are sad, and rejoice when you are happy. Life will always be a contrasting kaleidoscope of experiences and emotions; taking time to drink them in gives perspective, wisdom and an understanding of yourself and your place in this world.
Elise, I won’t be around to remind you to say “please”, “thank you” or “sorry”. Instead, I will try to leave a legacy that instills a sense of compassion and respect for others where pleasantries will naturally follow. I won’t always be able to comfort you when you’re sad, or reassure you when your confidence is low, but I hope you know that I will always be there for you, even when I am physically absent.
I hope that in knowing who your father was, you will be able to choose who you want to be…
Love, Dad xoxo
You can read more of Jared’s journey at The Boredom Blog: When chemotherapy gives you too much time on your hands. Go to jarednoel.wordpress.com.
Jared Noel passed away peacefully on the 8th of October, 2014, surrounded by his family at home.
Our thanks again to the Noel family for sharing their story.