This year, Kristine Hayward should've been renovating her home in Hamilton as planned with her husband Bruce, while enjoying retirement together after long careers as nurses.
But instead, the grandmother is helping men and their families affected by prostate cancer, as she knows all too well what it's like to be left behind. Kristine has launched a petition for better prostate cancer testing in New Zealand after her partner of almost 50 years passed away from the disease two years ago.
"Bruce was diagnosed in New Plymouth Emergency Department because he was complaining of back pain. He'd always had back pain, since working at a hydro dam and saving a person from under a concrete bucket, which was about to be poured by a crane," says Kristine, 67, speaking to the Weekly about the unexpected diagnosis in June 2018. "Bruce went and pushed him to the side and saved him, but his back was never the same."
When the couple learnt Bruce's back pain was in fact cancer that had metastasized to the bone, they were shocked.
"There were other symptoms including urinary frequency, but he'd been going to his GP over the years to have health checks including bloods for his PSA levels, while I did my usual breast and cervical screening," shares the mum of Nicholas, 47, and Susan, 40. "We both really believed in good health checks, since we're nurses."
Usually, Kristine says, when a man's PSA, or prostate-specific antigen (a protein made by cells in the prostate gland) levels rise, it's an indicator they should be monitored by their GP.
"Four years before his diagnosis, Bruce had a rising PSA level and the GP wanted him to have a urology referral, but this didn't happen because we were working overseas. His GP didn't dissuade him from doing nothing, so I believe there's room for improvement around that."
Prior to Bruce's diagnosis, the couple were working as registered nurses together at outback health clinics in Western Australia.
"We both decided to train in nursing in 1993, so we had a job we were going to enjoy because we both love people," explains Kristine, who owned a dry-cleaning business with her husband for seven years prior.
"After heading to Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, for two years to work in hospitals in 1998, we did our short-term contract work in Australia from 2006-2017."
The devoted duo worked in basic clinics with two little offices all day, as well as being on call. "It was a huge responsibility as it was just the two of us and we ended up treating anybody who walked in the door," recalls Kristine, who met her husband at 16 and married him aged 18 in 1973.
"Bruce was into psych nursing and very good at it. My forte was more chronic diseases including respiratory and cardiac areas, skin diseases and ear problems. It was good to have our specialities combined."
On one of many occasions Bruce showed just how dedicated he was to his job in the outback, after violence broke out.
"Bruce was called away to de-escalate a situation because four men were using all sorts of weapons like knives and hammers," she says. "He went in and called for a flight to come and get the wounded out, and he administered first aid."
When the pair finished their outback stint at the end of 2017, close to retirement, they spent a year in New Plymouth with Kristine's mother who was unwell. Then Bruce was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the most common type for New Zealand men.
"We sold our house and gave up work immediately, and bought Bruce a new boat. We tried to prioritise what he wanted to do before he died and so we did the South Island on the boat, which are good memories."
After Bruce's death, Kristine took over running the Hamilton Prostate Cancer Group and worked towards her petition, which calls for free national screening for Kiwi men over 50, or over 40 with a family history. She also works a day or two a week as a nurse to fill in time.
"It was a debilitating death that caused an incredible overwhelming sorrow for me, our children and grandchildren, and all Bruce's friends," Kristine shares. "Our men are infamously slow and reluctant in getting help and often don't like talking about their health, which is another reason to have structured national PSA screening."
Describing her late husband as outgoing and the life of the party, Kristine says she misses his presence.
"Bruce was a very loving character and a really caring, funny guy. This was the man I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with, the man I loved. The petition is my way of changing things because I know through personal experience that national screening could save our men's lives. I want more men to have a better outcome than my husband did."
To find out more about Kristine Hayward's prostate testing petition and for a link to support it, go to prostate.org.nz and type the word "petition" into the search bar.
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