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Wind behind the flags

Francesca (Fran) McGuigan is ready to return to nature and shares the journey of how she got there.

Lung cancer is often diagnosed late, but you battle it as long as you can. Fran had been battling this disease for almost two years, trying different treatment methods, including a cutting-edge treatment trial. When she was told that the type of cancer she had wasn’t treatable and that the new trial hadn’t successfully reduced the cancer, Fran decided to opt for assisted dying. Fran explains that it is important to access support networks like those at Hospice, the Lung Cancer Connect Support Group Nelson, and The Cancer Society Nelson, as when you start the journey you feel very much dropped into a void where you don’t know anything. You are told you have a terminal illness, followed by a treatment plan, but you can’t leave it there. These groups help you to meet people and learn more about your diagnosis so that you can join the frontline in that battle.

Fran and her whānau threw an ‘End of Life Celebration’ at their family bach in March, to ‘celebrate Fran’s love for food, family, life and fun, and with anticipation for the next great adventure.’ Fran and her husband Russell started building their bach before Fran was diagnosed. Unfortunately, the diagnosis slowed down the completion of their dream home, but with the help of friends, family, neighbours, and local gardeners the space was ready for Fran’s celebration.

Volunteers at Nelson Tasman Hospice helped to sew bunting flags together for Fran’s party, which were an important and symbolic addition to the event. Musician Billy Benson played, followed by the Nelson Sambassadors with their Brazilian drumming parade, which stirred up the crowd to dance, and then Trudy Wilson played in the afternoon. The celebration was a magical event, filled with love and good energy, just as Fran had hoped. The family has created a space in this garden, for Russell to reflect and share memories of Nana Fran with their grandchildren; a koru spiral of Weeping Matipo, with a wooden garden swing in the centre. Ashes will be spread here so that Fran’s energy will remain in the garden, where she hopes her family will spend many more special moments.

The team at Nelson Tasman Hospice has been able to be a part of the spiritual journey for Fran and Russell, in particular the Spiritual & Pastoral Care Coordinator, Erika Olsen. Fran explains “Although euthanasia is not something that fits with Hospice’s philosophy, Erika has done the most beautiful job. It was hard for me to choose this path, as one of the earlier people to make this choice without having a support network. Currently, the process is all about protocols and legalities.”

“Erika was able to come to our house, to help me and my husband deal with the concerns around realising you’re going to leave this world.” Fran describes a comforting evening outdoors, where they put all the upsetting things that were weighing on Fran’s mind, on paper and burnt them. Afterwards, Fran truly felt she had dealt with them; “We had talked about them, written them, we had burnt them, and they were gone.” Erika followed with a ceremony, inviting positive energies to follow Francesca’s transition into this next stage of life.

Fran and Russell recently enjoyed their 10th wedding anniversary. Fran sewed together big flags to represent the day, that will follow a theme from their wedding and mark the significant anniversary. Fran explains “for us, the transition from this world into the next, is just a transference of energy. My body has given up, but my heart and soul and spirit will fly on in those flags. Energy never dies, is our philosophy, and mine is going back into nature. I may not be religious, but I am spiritual.”

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