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Friendship an “absolute blessing” after bereavement

Lyn Healy and her late husband Don, standing outside
Lyn Healy and her late husband Don

Not only do Lynette (Lyn) Healy and Lynnette (Lynnie) Coupar share the same name, but also the tragedy of losing a partner to blood cancer.

And this has fostered a deep bond and friendship between the two women. They were brought together in sad circumstances in 2016 during the last months of their husbands’ treatment for myeloma.

Lynnie Coupar (right) with her late husband Bruce

While Don Healy and Bruce Coupar were neighbours in adjoining hospital rooms in Cairns, they didn’t meet up until a Leukaemia Foundation blood cancer co-ordinator played a key role in bringing their wives together.

“Lyn and I had met briefly at a carer’s support group but when Donna introduced us later she said ‘you two definitely need to get together. Both your husbands worked in the mines, you have so much in common’,” said Lynnie, 59, of Cairns, who has two grown-up children and three grandchildren.

“Lynnie and I started becoming friends at the day clinic,” said Lyn, 61, also of Cairns, who has three daughters and two grandsons.

“Our boys were hooked up to their IVs and we all started talking. Then Lynnie and I would head down to the cafeteria for a cuppa or go for a walk and talk.

“We hit it off straight away. We were kindred spirits and shared a bit of black humour. That’s really important for some comic relief when you’re living and breathing blood cancer,” said Lyn.

“Chatting away from the boys, we’d talk about their treatments and white cell counts and ask – ‘how are you going?’” said Lynnie.

“We could talk openly about all our concerns. Talking to someone who is going through the same thing makes all the difference.”

Lynnie’s husband lived with myeloma for 15 years. When Bruce was diagnosed in 2001, the Coupars lived in Melbourne. He had a stem cell transplant and “all the treatments under the sun” before going into remission in 2009.

“After such an intense eight years, we really needed a break, so went travelling,” said Lynnie.

They made their way to Darwin where they spent the next six years. Lynnie flew with an airline and Bruce worked one week on, one week off in the mines in Western Australia.

“When we had time off, we’d fly to Hawaii or Cairns or go down to the Kimberleys. It was a fantastic lifestyle,” said Lynnie.

In 2013, when Bruce relapsed, they flew back and forth to Melbourne for treatment until he ran out of treatment options, and from early-2016 he was managed by a haematologist in Cairns. (The Coupars had moved to Cairns when Lynnie’s job was transferred there from Darwin.)

Don Healy’s blood cancer journey was much shorter. Lyn, a paramedic, was shocked by his myeloma diagnosis in April 2015. His only symptom was a sore back, from picking up an esky.

They were in Mt Isa at the time and went to Brisbane to see a neurosurgeon. Don was referred to a haematologist and the Healys ended up staying in the Queensland capital for eight months.

“Being so far away from family and everything was a real hardship. Luckily, we stayed at the Leukaemia Foundation village which was amazing and great for a bit of companionship which was vital during that time,” said Lyn.

She used all the long service leave she had accrued but Lyn wasn’t able to keep her training up-to-date or do shift work while looking after Don.

“The decision was clear – I couldn’t continue to work,” said Lyn.

Don didn’t respond well to treatment. He had a stem cell transplant in Brisbane, experimental treatments in Townsville and in April 2016, had more chemotherapy in Cairns. (The Healys had moved there and were staying with Lyn’s parents.)

“That treatment didn’t work either and the doctor said – ‘we’re sending you home to spend the time you’ve got with family’,” said Lyn.

“We went to the day clinic for blood or plasma and that’s when we met Lynnie and Bruce.”

Lynnie’s husband died in mid-August 2016; they had been together for 40 years.

Lyn went to Bruce’s funeral and two weeks later her husband died on their 40th wedding anniversary.

“We kept in touch well and truly from then,” said Lyn.

“I don’t know anyone else I can talk to about the things I talk to Lynnie about. It’s just invaluable.

“One of the biggest things is sorting through everything in the house, going through all your memories,” said Lyn who offered to help Lynnie with this.

“We had a really good day together.”

And Lynnie has found Lyn’s friendship and humour indispensable since Bruce’s passing.

“When we go around to each other’s place to catch up, we laugh a lot and talk about where we’re going to go from here,” said Lynnie.

“I can talk to Lyn about anything. She’s been an absolute blessing.”

The pair help each other practically, hanging pictures, fixing gates, using sanders, drills and ladders, and theyhave been camping together, each with their own tent and car.

“That was a real concern of mine. I thought I couldn’t go camping because I didn’t have anyone to go with, but Lynnie said, ‘you just need to set the car up and go’.”

Lynnie had kept her late-husband’s ute and had it fitted out with a canopy and Lyn had an awning that came in handy when it rained during their first trip to Ellis Beach.

“It was fantastic. I absolutely wouldn’t have gone if Lynnie hadn’t suggested it,” said Lyn.

“You have to be braver and do things outside your comfort zone. We want to go fishing out on the reef one day too.”

However much they feel comforted by one another, both still feel the pain of losing ‘their boys’.

“Talking the other day, I said ‘it seems like it’s getting harder’ and Lyn agreed, saying ‘yeah, you miss them more and more as time goes on’,” said Lynnie.

“It’s a different kind of loneliness now.”

Lyn and Lynnie have taken part in the Leukaemia Foundation’s beautiful evening lantern walk – Light the Night – where Australians come together to mark their blood cancer journey or to honour a loved one.

“At Light the Night last year, we were asked to share our side of the story,” said Lyn.

“It was hard, but it felt good to do it as it recognised ‘the boys’ and what the Leukaemia Foundation had done for us.

“It felt really special. Telling our story was another way of honouring Don and Bruce. It was a real tribute to their memory. They will never be forgotten.”