LIFE dealt Jan Chalmers a double hand of cruelty six years ago.
First, her husband Lindsay was diagnosed with mesothelioma, as the couple dreamed up their long-awaited retirement plans.
Just months later, her brother Alan Palmer received the same death sentence.
The men passed away within 18 months of each other, leaving the great-grandmother shell-shocked, devastated and scratching for answers.
“It made me angry, to think that they were so healthy and something like that could take them away,” says Jan, 70, of West Footscray.
“They were shadows of themselves by the end.
“My husband and I were married for 49 years and were both ready to retire and enjoy life. It’s just so sad.”
For 12 months year her husband was in and out of Footscray and Austin hospitals, having his lungs drained of fluid and trying experimental treatments.
She watched as his life ebbed away, his large frame shrinking, his face losing its healthy glow from years driving tractors on sporting grounds for Hobson’s Bay Council.
The first sign of trouble came on the way to Etihad Stadium for a Bulldogs game.
She recalls her husband struggling to catch his breath and being forced to sit down as they walked out of Southern Cross train station.
“It was getting progressively worse so we went to the doctor, and my husband was sent straight to hospital,” she says.
“It’s horrible to see people so healthy go downhill so quickly.
“My brother was getting treatment when Lindsay was ill and he didn’t even get to go to his funeral.”
Her husband was a former motor mechanic and transport worker, while her brother was a builder, with both exposed to asbestos for protracted periods.
She says the level of care Lindsay received was one comfort, as was the kindness of the staff.
Jan had her own battle with breast cancer in 2001, but rarely dwells on it, saying “there are plenty of people worse off than me”.
To fill the void after retiring, Jan turned to the Western Bulldogs cheer squad, finding solace in friendships and volunteering.
“I had to find something to occupy me during the week,” she says.
“It gets pretty lonely when all your friends are at work and you’ve got no one else.”
Surrounded by other widows in the club’s membership ranks, she volunteers and makes letters for the banners.
It’s given her a reason to smile again.
Every time she sees a picture of the Bulldog’s 2016 Premiership banner, Jan feels a small thrill.
“I think – ‘They are my letters’,” she says.
The Greatest Need Project is an online story-sharing website with two major goals – to help patients facing significant hardship and disadvantage, and to facilitate research, at Western Health.
As a patient, Jan Chalmers is sharing her story in bid to help those at Western Health who need it most.
By making a donation on Jan’s behalf – and sharing her story on social media – you are making a difference too. Thank you.