Body

Kiwi cancer battler Kurt Brunton's heartbreaking final video messages to his daughter

Kurt’s always had a beautiful outlook on life and it’s important that he passes that on to Sage.

By Lynley Ward

It seems it was only yesterday Kurt Brunton was brimming with love and good health, cuddling his newborn baby girl Sage tenderly in his arms, a proud dad enjoying his first moments of fatherhood.

But just a year later, his body ravaged by a deadly blood cancer that can no longer be treated in New Zealand, the 41-year-old tells Woman's Day he has just spent an emotional two weeks making videos for his wee daughter to treasure should his last chance to beat the killer disease fail.

Celebrating Sage's first birthday on the eve of ground-breaking treatment, with his tumours growing larger by the day, the softly spoken Auckland dad and former Mr Universe NZ Athletic shares how special these recorded messages could prove for a daughter he may not see grow up.

"I've been doing that for a few days, putting videos together just in case the worst happens," he says as tears stream down his face. "I haven't managed to get through one without crying.

"Today I filmed Janelle and I together. We sang 'Happy Birthday' for Sage's first birthday. I'm just trying to record as much as possible about me, about Sage and about things she might like to know in the future."

His wife of three years, Janelle Brunton-Rennie, 35, adds "Kurt's always had a beautiful outlook on life and it's important that he passes that on to Sage. He's always been a no-stress guy, having fun and living in the moment, and they're all things I want Sage to hear and learn from him."

The only prospect of cure from the deadly non-Hodgkin lymphoma now rests at a clinic in the US with an eye-watering price tag.

With Kiwis generously pledging more than $150,000 in the first three days of a Givealittle campaign to pay for the treatment that could amount to more than $1 million, the software accounting systems manager is imagining milestones in Sage's life to get him through the harrowing ordeal.

Tells Kurt, "I keep focusing on the vision of walking her to school on her first day. I keep reminding myself of looking into the future."

It's been a tumultuous year for the couple who fell in love training alongside each other in an Auckland gym seven years ago.

Despite being in the best shape of his life, Kurt recalls noticing an innocuous-looking lump on his abdomen a day after the couple's third wedding anniversary in January. What he thought would be a routine check-up with a doctor ended with a grim diagnosis of large diffuse B-cell lymphoma that left the new dad grappling for answers.

Janelle explains, "Our lifestyle for seven years has been impeccable. We have a chemical-free house and eat cleanly. I thought I was doing everything to negate anything like this ever happening to my family."

While chemotherapy initially appeared to be working, hopes were dashed six weeks ago, when a scan revealed five tumours growing rapidly in his body.

With his doctor sadly saying there was no other treatment possible in NZ for the highly aggressive disease, the couple searched for alternatives to save Kurt's life.

It led them to a ground-breaking immunotherapy treatment in Boston and with no time to spare, Kurt is set to have his first consultation this week at Massachusetts General Hospital to see if he qualifies for the CAR-T clinical trial or a more pricey option.

The miracle therapy involves harvesting cells, then genetically engineering them into killer cells and reintroducing them back into his body to fight the cancer.

If he is eligible for treatment, Kurt will spend between eight to 12 weeks in hospital.

"My greatest hope is the doctor says I'm a valid candidate for the trial, and they can start me on it as soon as possible and get the result that we're going there for."

Janelle, who runs a public relations business, knows being separated from Kurt for the duration may be the toughest test the pair will go through this year.

"Part of me is going to miss him immensely, but I know if we don't do this, it's two months compared to a whole lifetime," says Janelle.

"It fills me with fear to consider life without him."

"Janelle is my rock," the loving husband tells. "She's given me so much support."

In the meantime, it's a matter of living each day to its fullest, finding gratitude in everything and taking nothing for granted.

With his 1.9-metre frame a drastic 20 kilos lighter than the start of the year and his brown hair long fallen out, Kurt weeps recounting a tender moment on his first Father's Day as he rested with his precious daughter.

"Sage was just lying on my lap, looked up at me and said, 'Hi, Dada.'"

"And then we just cried," finishes Janelle, reaching for the tissues. Concludes Kurt, "With the year we've gone through and not knowing if we were going to make it to her first birthday, to get to there and be able to celebrate Sage turning one brings a big smile to my face. I have a young family to fight for and we are willing to do whatever it takes."

Kurt's Givealittle fundraising page is here.

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