One night in December, while many Melburnians were beginning their pre-Christmas festivities, a chef cooked a romantic dinner for two.
This dinner would be one he will remember for the rest of his life – as will all of those involved.
The dinner was for a charming young couple; Cameron, 36, and his wife Nikki.
The romantic dinner was Cameron’s idea, and it’s what he asked for when two of his best mates came to visit him in hospital, wanting to know what they could do for him. “I want to do something for Nikki” he said.
Cameron is dying, and his first thought was to create one more happy memory for the love of his life, Nikki, who has barely left his side as his health has deteriorated.
His friends swung into action – they were determined not only to do this, but to make sure it was a surprise for Nikki.
They enlisted the help of the nurses on the 6th floor of St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne. Could they bring a chef in? Could they cook on the ward? Was there somewhere to set up a special table, where the couple could have some privacy? Could they keep it all a secret from Nikki?
The answer to all of these, and many other questions was a resounding ‘Yes!’
The nurses booked the Quiet Room, arranged decorations and even asked Nikki’s Mum to smuggle some dressy clothes in for her. Cam’s mates brought in clothes for him.
The Chef came, set up, and began preparations, with Nikki completely oblivious until one of the nurses handed her a bag with her outfit in, and said ‘Don’t ask questions,’ and sent her off to get dressed.
“When I came out, they took me to the room, it was beautifully decorated with tea lights! And Cam was in a shirt and tie” Nikki smiles, remembering. The room overlooks Fitzroy, “It’s the Melbourne we remembered. The Melbourne where we’d been so happy, we could see Melbourne Uni, Fitzroy…” Nikki’s voice trails away.
Life is not fair. With years of study, work and travel behind them, Cam and Nikki should be anticipating a fulfilling, joyous future together. Instead Nikki is living in the hospital with Cam, doing what she can for him, as they await the inevitable.
The chef served antipasto, Coq au Vin and lemon meringue pie.
They met in their first week at Melbourne University in 1999; Cameron the handsome, sporty redhead from Bendigo, and Nikki, the petite, gorgeous Arts student from Geelong. Cameron was studying Environmental Science, and would later work for many years with the EPA, while Nikki would graduate to be a consultant in business strategy.
Smart, articulate and ambitious, they were also keen to travel and to progress their careers, and spent five blissful years living, studying and travelling in the UK. “We just loved it, didn’t we Cam?” says Nikki, smiling into Cam’s eyes. He smiles back. It’s a private moment of shared memories and deep devotion.
But their idyllic lifestyle came to a crushing halt one night in 2014, when Cam had trouble walking, and couldn’t raise one arm. Fearing he was having a stroke, they rushed to the nearest London hospital. A scan led to devastating news. Cameron had an aggressive brain tumour. Four days later he was in surgery, the surgeons said they were able to remove 90% of the tumour, then came chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“Cam did really well” recalled Nikki. “He recovered, we were able to travel, he went back to the gym…” Her face clouds, as she recalls “He did really well until July.” Another tumour grew on the other side of his brain. More surgery, more chemo, more radiotherapy. Despite the best treatment on offer, the tumour grew back, living up to its confronting nickname “In England they call it ‘The Terminator’” says Nikki. In October, they decided to come home.
Cam’s cancer is glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). “It strikes randomly, and the doctors can’t say why” says Nikki. “Cam has never smoked, drunk much, and has always been fit.”
“How can it be that after 30 years, the treatment for this aggressive brain cancer hasn’t changed at all? It’s the biggest cancer killer of people under 40” says Nikki, “and we need research to find better ways to deal with it. It’s too late for Cam, but it could hopefully help someone else.”