Sunday, 14 October 2012


14 October 2012

There are angels who walk amongst us.  People who look just like you and me.  They walk, they talk.  They have earthly bodies and surely feel pain, yet straight to heaven they’ll go.

And I was lucky enough to meet an angel myself.  In fact everyone in my family was.  We called her Janice and she was truly amazing.

My Dad had cancer.  In the beginning I remember finding the idea quite strange.  Surely they had made a mistake.  Cancer, seriously?  Oh, well.  I’m quite sure he’ll be fine.  People don’t really die of cancer, do they?  I mean, medicine is so advanced – there’s chemo and radiation and who knows what else.  And his wasn’t proper cancer either.  It wasn’t like he had lung cancer or anything like that, he merely had a tumour in his lung.  That didn’t sound so bad.  And truth be told he did smoke at least 60 Gauloises Plain cigarettes a day, so I suppose it was bound to happen.  He did like the limelight though, so giving him his due, his tumour was supposedly the size of a tennis ball.  Always, the big measures with my Dad.  Nothing small like a ping pong ball or a marble.  No, not for him.  That would have been far too mundane and ordinary.

And still we were not worried.  Or at least, I wasn’t really and nor were my brother and sister or Grant for that matter.  Maybe the “adults” were worried?  Who can tell.  He was scheduled for an operation to remove the tumour and we were warned that he would be in a lot of pain afterwards and be in the Intensive Care Unit for a bit.  On the day of the op, we all went to the Hospital, and big was our surprise when the operation was finished and my Dad got wheeled back into his regulation room again.  I thought, hah!!!  Told you he was a fighter!  ICU, hah!  Cancer schmancer, hah!  Until the docs arrived and told us, that when they had opened him up, they saw that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes – the carriers through the body.  Removing the tumour was pointless.  So, they neatly closed him up and wheeled him back to his room.  And whereas our hopes had been to see him after the op sance tennis-ball-sized tumour, we now saw him with his tumour firmly intact and a huge scar to boot.

And then for the very first time, I started having my doubts.  When he was initially diagnosed, the prognosis was actually quite grim.  The survival rate was 20% over two years.  At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around it, because I was convinced it wouldn’t be applicable to us.  I mean, for heaven’s sakes, we were talking about my Dad here.  The invincible Frank Frost.  I remember all of us saying, “Daddy is a fighter, we don’t have to be worried.  He’ll be fine”.  He’ll be the 20%.  I don’t think we could face the alternative and ignorance was bliss.

Chemo and radiation got kicked off, with miserable results.  I have never witnessed another human being, being so violently ill.  It is indescribable.  My dad was in the middle of a course of chemo treatment, when all of us decided to go away on a Kleinbaai weekend.  My mom and dad, Grant and I, and baby Luke, a mere few months old, Katrine and her boyfriend Gordon and Albert.  My dad said he was going to be feeling sick and miserable in any rate, so he might as well be sick and miserable at Kleinbaai.  Where he’ll at least have a view of the sea as well as the pleasure of being at one of his favourite places in the whole world with his favourite people in the whole world.  He was a charming patient, never moody or broody or feeling sorry for himself.  Never complaining once, yet he must have felt absolutely dreadful.  He took part in it all, very involved – laughing and joking.  We had a fantastic time and none of us knew that it would be our last family “holiday” away before he died.  Yet at times he got very quiet, and he often went and lay down and slept.  On the Saturday afternoon Grant and my Dad drove over to Franskraal to go and watch rugby at a pub as we have no TV at Kleinbaai.  Grant said that in the middle of the game, my Dad simply got up, walked out and continued to get sick for what felt like forever.  Grant, being the slightly awkward son-in-law, suggested they leave, yet my dad would have none of it.  At times when the heaving was under control, he would walk in again and watch a few minutes before leaving the room once more.  Grant said that they had to make a few stops along the way on their drive home as well.  Still, he didn’t complain.  He simply just got on with it, not inconveniencing anyone else in the process or disrupting their lives.

Soon after that, we made contact with Hospice.  Still not believing that the cancer would kick his butt, but clearly we all needed help.  And Hospice provides just that.  Help for all, not just the patients.  And so we met Janice.  But despite all the chemo and all the radiation, my Dad was not getting better.  For the longest time, he seemed to reach a plateau.  Just hanging.  Seeming almost okay.  He never stopped drumming and playing with the Blues Broers – even going up to Graham’s Town to perform at the Festival.  Hardly believable.

But after Graham’s Town, the decline became more steady.  Pain medication was also taking its toll, and the most obvious side effect was severe sleepiness.  He would be speaking, standing upright, and fall asleep in midsentence, just like that.  I remember thinking more than once, should I wake him up, shouldn’t I?  What if he falls over and gets hurt.  He adored Luke and loved playing with him and holding him, yet he would be standing with Luke in his arms and be fast asleep, and I’d be hovering, arms outstretched just in case he collapsed and fell.  Nervous the entire time.

We adored my dad.  All of us did.  He was just a man, with many faults, as all of us have, yet I loved him with every fibre of my being.  All of us did.  He had a magnetic personality and commanded the attention in a room when he walked into it.  People looked up the second he entered a room, and found it difficult to take their eyes off him again.  Once you met him, you’d never forget him.  He was a showman and loved entertaining people and making them laugh.  He was extremely popular and had many friends.  He wanted to be around all of us when he was sick.  Not stuck in a room in Hospice, nice as they are.  Not in a strange place.  So we decided to care for him at home.  It was hardly a difficult decision.  None of us could bear the thought of him not being at home, being looked after by strangers.  He’d never even been to a Hospital in his live before getting cancer.  Had never had any other illnesses either.

Our angel, Janice, stepped into our lives.  A lovely, kind and gentle lady, who took all of us under her wing.  She had marvellous wisdom and practical advice in caring for my dad.  She was upbeat and fun, and would stand around holding Luke, while talking about my dad’s diet and how we could make him as comfortable as possible.  We made him a comfortable bed slap bang in the middle of the TV room which had an open plan view into the kitchen – the hub of our home.  Traffic seemed none stop with a constant air of festivity as our home became inundated with even more visitors than usual, and believe you me, it was always busy, even in “quieter” times.  He liked being included and feeling like he was a part of the activity.  Still later, a hospital bed was installed in the TV room to make him more comfortable.

Janice came around about twice a day advising us on pain medication and general care.  Yet, for the most part we did it, even administering the pain meds, morphine.  Washing him, feeding him (when he was still able to eat), sitting with him, chatting with him (even though he lost the ability to talk later on) and keeping him company.  Never on his own.  I don’t think he had a single solitary moment at all the last few months– there was always another person in the room with him.  I used to play music to him and sit with Luke on his bed. 

He had what they call a butterfly clip, attached to his chest, straight into a vein, which gave a continuous and metred dose of morphine at registered intervals, ensuring he was pain free.  And I find comfort from this, as the thought of him being in any pain, was unbearable.  Yet, even given the morphine, he winced from time to time, and this bothered me for days on end afterward.  And still Janice was a calming presence.  I suppose we were in essence already in mourning, as we realised by this stage that the end was inevitable and unavoidable.  It was just a matter of time.

I remember asking Janice once how she could bear doing her job.  Day in and day out.  Seeing people suffer, not to mention their families.  And she said, “We get terribly attached to our patients and their families, and we are heartbroken, just like you when they’re gone.  We can’t protect ourselves from the hurt and mourn their loss when they’re gone.  Yet we need to help.  And it is an incredible privilege to walk this final journey with a family.  An intimate experience”.  I salute her for her bravery, yet know with absolute and clear conviction that I could not do it.

Facing the end, is still very, very tough.  A mere three days before my Dad died, Albert got extremely excited.  He had heard about a natural healer, who he was sure would be able to heal my Dad.  It was a final desperate grasp for clemency.  And almost strange coming from Albert, a complete non-believer.  Yet, he was willing to grasp at straws.  We told him gently that he had to let Daddy go.

A week before his death, my mom and us three kids stood around my Dad’s bed one evening and told him all he needed to hear.  He could go.  We’d be fine.  He was allowed to rest.  We loved him and needed him to be free yet again.  But ever the showman and needing to call the shots, he stretched it out a bit and took his own good time.

We got the phone call from my mom, shortly after midnight on a Wednesday evening to say that my dad had died.  And ready though I thought I had been, I still wept.  It was simply inconceivable that he was no longer there.  But when I walked into my parents’ home and saw him lying there, I had a moment of complete peace.  Because I could see that he was no longer there.  The essence that was Frank Frost was gone.  And all that was left behind was a broken body.

Within a very short while, our home filled up with Lombards and Loubsers and we sat down to make plans and arrangements for the celebration of his life, to be held at Cloetenberg.  Grant, baby Luke and I only left my mom at about 3h00 that morning.  Yet the following morning, like I did every other morning, I phoned her first thing.  And completely automatically, as I had done every other morning, the first thing I asked my mom when she answered the phone was “How is Daddy doing this morning?”.

To which my mom replied, “You know, I think he’s really fine now”.  And remarkably he finally was.



  1. Lovely as always Helene. Love the sunflowers - they alwqays remond me of him. x

  2. Sunflowers will always remind me of Daddy. There are sunflowers in Katrine's windowsill as we speak. This is beautiful, and as much a tribute to Daddy as it is to Hospice. My brave gal.

  3. Really gut-wrenching to read, Helene. Im fortunate enough to still have both of my precious parents and dread the day I have to say goodbye. We are however, experiencing the same tragedy you did. My father-in-law to be, has cancer of the lymph nodes but he, unfortunately, cannot even attempt treatment as his is also HIV positive. Strangely enough, he too is a 'showman', he's an actor. Its horrible to watch someone so strong with a such booming, theater voice, reduced to a quiet, sickly thin, fading spirit. My fiance, Matt Marais and I are getting married on November 3rd and Drummond, his dad, maintains that that is the reason he has not left all his pain and suffering behind yet.
    Terribly emotional time. RIP Frank Frost. x

  4. Not sure how you write stuff so close to your heart - you are a brave woman x x Alexa

  5. Hi Helene, I remember those days well, I used to pop in to see your Mom at lunch times, and that was usualy the time that the Hospice sisters were visiting, I usued to sit with your Dad while your Mom would chat to the sisters in the other room. By that time your Dad had lost his speech and while I spoke he never took his eyes off your Mom until she left the room and sat and waited until she entered the room again.
    The sunflower scarves sold every October in aid of the Sunflower Foundation (Luekemia) have just taken on a second meanin, and when I wear my sunflower scarf I also think of Francois
    Mandy xxxxx

  6. Hi Mandy! I remember him following my mom with his eyes all of the time. She was his comfort and his rock and he desperately needed her. I remember you visiting often and being so supportive and just all together there for us. And because of your Thandi and my Dad and his love of sunflowers, we also get Bandana’s every year. xxx

  7. They are truly angels at the Hospice. My dad died of liver cancer. Heart wrenching to see them suffer so much. My dad was in the hospice for two days before he died in my arms. You talk of his essence that left. I actually saw how my dad left through his eyes. Like a last wave goodbye. The Angels at the Hospice was so warm & understanding

  8. Hi helene, i am a friend of katrine and robin,you have touched the depth of life and death.....thank you for sharing your real life story, so eloquently. ali xx