Life and death

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Deputy Mayor Serge Thomann

We are all enjoying summer and St Kilda at its best. As long as everyone respects our environment, our parks and our beaches – I am particularly thinking of our visitors! Thank you for doing the right thing.

The beginning of this year has been interesting. Having spent three weeks with my friends who were competing in wheelchairs tennis, I certainly realise what “access to all means” and I will keep proudly advocating their rights. Lucas Sithole and Stéphane Houdet and all, you can count on me. Thank you for your inspiration and I hope you enjoyed Melbourne and Victoria.

I have chosen a different tone for this month’s column. It has a sombre note as I have been quite affected by several deaths, including that of one of my first favourite French singers, Michel Delpech, who died quite quickly after a short fight with cancer.

The death of David Bowie touched me, like most of us. His concert at Waverley Park was one of my first concerts in Australia. I was amazed that in this age of social media, gossip and paparazzi, Bowie managed to keep his struggle with cancer secret.

I will never forget my Bowie stories, including meeting him with his beautiful wife Iman when I was invited by my friend Paul Mercurio on to the set of the first movie he made in the US (Exit to Eden in 1994).

Bowie insisted being next to Iman, who was in the film, when I was photographing her with Paul. When I posted the photo I took then on Instagram and Facebook to show the eternal love between the two and I received the most “Likes” ever.

But most of all, I was very moved by the passing of an 11year old boy, Rafael, who died of cancer after suffering for seven years.

“Rafa” was constantly in and out of hospital, most probably always in pain. Rafa was the son of one of my friend’s friends – Rosie, you have been wonderful with Rafa, and so was Lola.

I met him at a fundraiser as we wanted to send him to Brazil for the soccer World Cup as Rafa was a mad soccer fan. I looked through all the photos of this little boy, and he was always smiling.

Rafael’s parents asked the doctor who looked after him to speak at the funeral and it was one of the most touching eulogies I have ever heard. I feel compelled to share these heartbreaking words for all to read as they give a different perspective of life and death where a loved one is suffering from an incurable disease. It certainly is food for thought.

This is an abbreviated extract of what Professor Rod Hicks, Director of the Centre for Cancer Imaging at Peter MacCallum, said:

“When I was asked to speak at Rafael’s funeral, my first inclination was to say no. But I felt that we had an unfinished journey together and I agreed to speak to express my thanks to involve me in your wonderful family.

My last eulogy was not that long ago for my 93 year old father. I said at the time that my father had a long life lived well. I can say that Rafael had a short life but lived brilliantly. You might think that death represents the ultimate proof of the impotence of medicine in the face of cancer. Some doctors avoid the funerals of their patients, seeing it as a manifestation of personal failure.

I am afraid, I can’t see it that way at all. For me, medicine isn’t about preventing death, which is inevitable. It is about prolonging and enhancing the life, not only of the patient, but the family who goes with them. A patient of mine described the prospect of dying of cancer being like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and looking down, realising there is only one final destination, but two ways of getting there: over the edge or by the donkey trail. He reflected with gratitude before he died that despite the occasional bumpy and uncomfortable road, the later was much more preferable, as long as one takes the time to admire the view on the way down. Raphael also took the scenic route and what a great ride he had!”

I am sure everyone will take something from these wonderful words. Thank you Professor Hicks.

2016 will be an interesting year. There are Council elections on 22 October. Perhaps not all are aware of this, but instead of the current seven wards, with one councillor per ward, there will be three bigger wards with three councillors per ward.

I did not personally support this system as I think that an individual councillor for each ward is much more accountable to their community but the VEC decided differently.

Many people are encouraging me to stand again but with the vitriol on Facebook that quite often is unwarranted, one thinks twice about being so exposed. I don’t expect everyone to agree with all the decisions Council makes – I don’t always agree either as it is up to a majority of Councillors – but no one deserves all this abuse on Facebook and elsewhere.

Some people outside Council have told me they are reluctant to stand due to this vitriol.

I do encourage people who are involved with issues to stick up their hand to be part of the democratic life of our great City and try to make a difference in a positive way.

Let me finish by quoting tennis champion Lucas Sithole.

We all dream. But it is up to each of us if we continue to sleep and keep dreaming or if you wake up and follow your dreams.

See you at the St Kilda Festival – I can’t wait to see Gurrumul playing his new music on our big stage. Take care.

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