Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"That is my life story up until now" - Remembering Jenny (Mon 06 Jul 2009)

The cackle of a Laughing Kookaburra announces the first light of dawn as the sun rose on that cold winters day. With no sleep that night preparing for Jenny's Funeral later in the day, I penned these words to honour Jenny's Life at her Funeral. Six and half years later, looking back at what came out in those last few hours, I am happy. What strikes me most is how I chose to "reflect on the little things". And they are what I miss most. Here it is ..

Jennifer Joy Petterson
24 Mar 1962 - 30 Jun 2009
Age 47 years 3 months and 6 days

"That is my life story up until now."

This is how Jenny ended her "Autobiography" written in 5th class (being 1972). I always enjoyed reading this lengthy account (it had 3 three parts) of Jenny's life up to the age of 10. I loved this story and scanned the original into my computer so that I could read it during a quiet moment at work.

Jenny was the eldest identical twin daughter of Norm and Margaret Petterson of Holt Road, Sylvania. With feet eagerly pressing on Jenny's back at the birth, a younger sister followed 5 minutes after Jenny's arrival. This was her identical twin sister Joanne. She was ready to play and from that time on they were inseparable. On the day of their birth Jenny writes there was a fete at the hospital. Jenny would always tell me that Norm bought a wind up koala at the fete that played music. For some reason she did not write this

The Autobiography, even at the age of 10, shows that Jenny had an eye for detail, as this quote reveals.

"At the age of 4 years and 10 months and 15 days we started school and cried when mummy left us."

It documents many facts and figures - birth weights and lengths, when they first walked, where they holidayed and details such as the colour of the caravans they stayed in - all well recorded for prosperity.

They participated in many sporting activities (which has been a constant throughout Jenny's life) - swimming, physie, jazz ballet, and little athletics, to mention a few.

Furthermore, she recalls the date of their first hair cut. - and even allowing me to determine that her first tooth fell out on my 7th birthday .

More generally what can be summarized from the autobiography is that Jenny had a fun filled, active childhood with her sister Joie and friends, which was encouraged and fostered by their loving parents.

Even as babies there seemed to be an order to things and this became even more apparent once they started to talk (yes that date is also recorded). In Part 1 of Jenny's Autobiography:

"One the 3rd Oct 1964 we had our first haircut and Joie said, 'Denny First', meaning Jenny first".
Jenny even then was a stabilizing influence on Joanne.

As stated above Jenny finishes her "Autobiography" with:

"That is my life story up until now."

Obviously she looks forward to the future and how she will fit into the world as she grows up. In recent years these words struck a chord with me. Today, these words have even greater meaning.

Jenny and Jo progressed to Sylvania High. They started part time work at Grace Bros’, Miranda Fair. Jo in "Cosmetics and Womens Clothing" and Jenny in "Hardware and Gardening" - "Same, Same but Different". I often asked Jenny to recall these days and I would get a kick when she could still recite the cost codes of power tools and various hardware items. The attention for detail was paying off out in the real world!!

During high school, the Girls ramped up their sporting activities and started to focus on Athletics, Cross Country Running and also a bit of Tennis. Interestingly enough, Jo and I would have crossed paths at the CHS State Cross Country Championships held at Hurlstone Ag College in 1977.

They also found time to also progress from Brownies to Girl Guides. Musters and camps were attended and they both rose quickly though the ranks to Patrol Leaders, finally achieving the highest rank of Queen's Guide with presentation of the award by the Governor of NSW, Sir Rodden Cuttler.

School and High School Certificates were sat and good grades recorded in all subjects. Geography was Jenny's favourite - definitely an early sign of a future "Travel Bug". She loved a map and an atlas, and this remained another constant throughout her life.

Successful Grades accomplished in the HSC saw the Girls accepted into the Bachelor of Business at UTS.

Following interviews the Girls accepted Business/Administration cadetships with the Electricity Commission of NSW. Our lives crossed similar paths again, as I had the same Interviewer for my successful application for an Engineering Cadetship. We were now working for the same company - be it 12,000 people.

Group assignments were the norm at UTS and they always found it easier if the group consisted of two members - more specifically themselves. Minimizing traveling, they were on the same wavelength, which provided for a consistent approach to completing the assignment just in time.

At work, as was the case during their school days at Sylvania, Jenny and Jo made many friends. There were lots of "Work Outings" with friends from [Work and] Uni.

Being at an age to travel independently, they made many "trips away". These were always well documented with many photographs taken, always with people in them (themselves typical) and some local landmark behind.

Jenny documents in a 1995 twin survey that they had traveled overseas on 13 occasions, as well as numerous holidays in Australia.

At work Jenny was provided with early work experiences, mainly in Purchasing (there were lots of cost codes to remember there). Jenny then pursued a career in Internal Audit, specializing in large mainframe computer systems and business systems. This was the days before PC's. Joanne followed a more traditional path into financial and management accounting. As PC progresses throughout the organization, there were now many PC Id numbers to remember.

All kinds of sporting activities were tried and some pursued more than others. The main sport would then become Touch Football, participating in three separate competitions each week. Also they found the water and learnt to row single and double sculls, as well as 4's and 8's.

Through a combined interest in running, Jenny and I crossed paths in organising our company's participation in the inaugural Corporate Games held in Nov 1989. I can remember the first time we met and I how I was instantly attracted to her smile, blue eyes and lovely [nature]. On the [day of the Games] I realized that Jenny was an identical twin. We all had a great day.

Afterwards, I often thought of Jenny and a few months later out of the blue, she arranged to give me a team photo from the day and then asked me to partner her to a wedding. I was stunned. We agreed to go out on 30th March 1990 before the wedding in order to get to know each other better. We had dinner and saw a movie. She then showed me photo albums of her travels late into the night - it just seemed so easy to listen and talk to her and even then I hoped that she we would be the one for me. I could not believe she was interested in me. After a month we were going out and a 10 year courtship ensued.

During this time many milestones and life changing experiences occurred. The Girls completed their Masters [in Finance at UTS], Norm (their father) passed away suddenly in hospital, on [Tue 0]2 Jun 1992.

In late Mar 1997 Jenny was diagnosed with breast cancer and a mastectomy followed a few weeks later. She returned to work and got on with her life. On New Years Eve 1997, Margaret (their mother) was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Margaret was referred to Jodi as her Oncologist and numerous chemo courses followed. The Girls would attend all consultations with her. Around the same time Jenny's cancer recurred in the scar tissue of the mastectomy. This is when Jodi also became Jenny's Oncologist. Now Margaret and Jenny were having chemo at the same time.

Through a cancer course at Royal Nth Shore, Jenny found Barbara (now Sister Suscila) and that's where they found meditation and a natural/spiritual approach to healing. Around this time Jenny also joined the Sutherland Shire Cancer Support Group which was facilitated by Liz, a social worker with Calvary.

Stong relationships were established and developed with Jodi, Suscila and Liz and though each of their own skill sets and support networks helped influence Jenny's approach and ensuing journey with cancer. I believe they helped Jenny to embrace her cancer and to live life to the full.

Unfortunately Margaret's cancer was quite advanced and spread quickly. Jodi saw in Jenny and Joanne a strength of character and asked them to care palliatively for Margaret at home, while she would make house calls. This has been Jenny and Jo's greatest gift in life, caring for their mother at home for 8 weeks (Jenny was still having her chemo at this time) until Margaret succumbed to her cancer on 28 April 1999 (her wedding anniversary).

Jenny's breast cancer spread to her lungs and in late 1999 scans revealed 10 tumors. A hormone therapy treatment started. Jenny and Jo traveled to visit Suscila in Alice Springs and visited Uluru for the Millennium. Jenny would recall later that she had an amazing experience lying in the red desert sand at the foot of Uluru.

Shortly after her return from Uluru we became engaged and we set about organizing our wedding in just 10 weeks. The big day being the 30th April 2000. What a day. We sang “Song of Joy”. We exchanged vows and rings and then kissed as Husband and Wife. At the reception we made toasts, spoke and danced the night away. A rainbow theme being the unifying element with rainbow inspired flowers, ribbons, cake, speeches and songs. We honeymooned on Lord Howe and shortly after our return Jenny retired from work to pursue her passions (on Jodi's suggestion).

At the Sydney Olympics later that year we must have held the record for the most sessions attended - handball becoming our favourite. We had many fond and inspiring memories from the whole event.

At that time, just over 9 years ago, we had no idea how long we would have together. This did not stop us and we tried to live a normal life with goals set for six months at a time. Holidays were planned and taken - a trip to the Cook Islands to visit Susila over Xmas 2000, a 4 week trip to North West Australia in May 2001 and a return to Lord Howe in Oct 2001 so Joanne and my Mother could share the experience.

Another constant was our annual trip to Mt Kosciusko for a benchmarking 22km walk around the Main Range. This year was her hardest effort – but she did it. Maybe it was a sign of things to come.

In late 2000 I bought a small digital camera to document our travels and lives. I did not know how much time we would have share and the camera gave me some comfort that I could capture our memories.

Jenny's cancer was ever persistent and there was always something going on - radiation, more chemo, hormone injections or tablets and numerous operations - we could watch “House” and could easily relate to the medical terms.

Through one of her chemo treatments, Jenny found a Dragons Abreast flyer at the hospital. This would be start of the biggest change in our lives. Jenny and Joanne took to paddling like "ducks to water" and I found myself photographing them and the dragon boats that they trained and raced. It gave them opportunities to travel wide and far. Our holidays were now planned around Dragon Boat regattas locally and internationally.

Jo would make the NSW and Australian Team to Poland in 2003. Jenny was held back by a course of chemo and numerous trips to the hospital. She still remained involved by videoing the teams at time trials at Penrith.

In 2004 she would make the NSW Team and compete for her country in the World Championships in Shanghai. There could not have been a prouder person when Joanne's Premier Mixed Team won a bronze medal in the 500m race.

During the 2004 Shanghai campaign Jenny’s journey was captured by an Australian Story episode titled "In the Pink". She was nervous participant and a little uncertain about how it would be scripted and received. We all nervously awaited its airing on that June long weekend Monday - unaware as to its content. The episode captured the essence of the Dragons Abreast Movement in Australia, showing all sides to cancer and it's impact - positive and negative.

The episode would popularize Dragons Abreast Australia beyond it's creators wildest dreams. Clubs quickly popped up everywhere across the country and continue to do so. Meanwhile, Jenny and Joanne would become the most well known (yet most humble) paddlers in Australia.

Others today have told of Jenny's inspiring feats on the water and there is no need for me to repeat them. She just loved to paddle and found great comfort amongst her paddling colleagues. It provided a sense of normality to her life and she just seem to fit in, even with compression sleeve on her right arm or the missing hair on her head which was always discreetly hidden by a colourful selection of bandana's.

Jenny empowered many people (with and without) cancer to pursue their dreams. She will live on through Joanne and I and no doubt many others from her inspiring journey. Thinking of Jenny will help influence our decisions and motivate us to achieve our dreams and to decide what is right.

I will miss hearing you breath as you slept. I will miss calling out “I love you” as I leave for work each day. Whistling at the front door when I got home and hearing you whistle back. You were the most amazing thing to happen in my life I am having trouble comprehending the way forward. You provided me with love and gave me hope and life purpose. I would always say to Jenny “I am the lucky one”.

A couple of quotes from her regular talks and Australian Story follow and I think there is something there to inspire us all. No matter the circumstance.

“Cancer is something that people do not expect to happen to them and no matter who is diagnosed, and at whatever time in their life, it is a shock which has huge ramifications for not only the person involved but also their family and friends. It takes a lot of adjustment to get used to.”

“I feel I am so lucky and have a wonderful life. I have had some great opportunities through breast cancer to meet some very inspiring people. Geoff and Jo have been a constant source of support for me. Breast cancer has totally changed my life but for the best.”

“I don't understand how things work out, and why things work out the way they do. I feel like I've been lucky. I don't understand how cancer works, I don't know why I've been blessed the way I have been.”

“It's just in the lap of the gods.”

Enjoy your new “Island Home” and those that surround you [there]. You know that “We’ll be There” and we know that “You’ll be There”.

As we said to each other before we nodded off each night .. Jenny:

“Good Night, God Bless, I Love You.”

"That is my life story up until now."

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