A version of this story was published on SBS Life
Determined to remember their life outside of cancer, a young family hit the road for an epic six-week, 10,000 km trip across Australia, chasing dreams, building memories and finding solace in the wide open spaces of the outback.
“Cancer is just a word. It doesn’t have to be our reality. This is a love story about living cancer, not surrendering. It’s about making every moment count,” says Sarah Widodo, whose husband, Catur Widodo, has Pseudomyxoma Peritonei – a rare and terminal cancer of the appendix. They have two children, ten-year old Jala and four-year old Kyan. “We wanted to create happy memories for our two boys and to gift Catur some adventure in his life,” Sarah tells SBS. “We had always been gypsy nomads before cancer made us stagnant, stuck inside a system, reliant on medical help. A road trip helped us remember who we are. Cancer is just a small piece of the story.”
Sarah, a singer/dancer from New South Wales, and Catur, a renowned djembe player from Java, met in Bali in 2004. He was drumming on stage at a reggae club and when their eyes met across the heaving dance floor it was love at first sight. A year later they were married and living in Australia. Returning to Bali in 2009, they founded Hamanah Drum n Dance, an electrifying African Dance troupe that performed across the island.
34-year old Catur, a survivor of the Bali bombs, was diagnosed in 2013 when doctors discovered a massive tumour in his abdomen. Undergoing what is referred to as a MOAS (mother of all surgeries,) his spleen, gallbladder and 2/3 of his large bowel were removed and chemotherapy poured directly into his abdomen cavity. Three years down the track life seemed back to normal for the family, now living in Wollongong. The couple renewed their wedding vows in a moving ceremony surrounded by friends and family. Sarah was one year into a Bachelor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Catur had set his sights on becoming a sound healer/therapist. But a routine hospital visit revealed the cancer had returned. Aggressively. This time they were told it was incurable.
“I have learned not to take anything for granted,” says Sarah. “Cancer stole our lifestyle, our business, our financial security, our future and our dignity. Yet, it has also taught me not to wait, but to live and love now, to fill up our time together with as much love and memories as we can squeeze in.”
Her blog That “C” Word allows her to vent her anguish under a cheeky alter ego, ‘Sarah the Carer.’ Sharing their story on social media has also helped lighten the load emotionally and financially with love and support pouring in from friends around the world. With money raised through Catur’s ‘making it count’ campaign they bought a roof top tent for their car and headed to the desert. Sarah explains, “We needed to disconnect in order to reconnect. The outback can make you feel so very small and irrelevant. There is a lot of distance to cover, a lot of time to think, a lot of time to talk and a lot of time to let it all go to the wind.” She adds, “We had no idea if we would make it, travelling in a 22-year old beast of a Holden Rodeo and with only $1500 in our pocket. But when you have been fighting to stay alive for the past three years, sometimes you just have to go for it, live the life you want and hope for the best!”
By day three Catur had a new found spark. “He was finally believing in himself again,” says Sarah. “My heart was exploding watching him transform.” Each night she updated their FB page Making it count for Catur: BLESS UP road trip. Posting by candlelight one evening from the crystal clear hot springs of Mataranka, she wrote, ‘Catur is snoring blissfully in the tent & I’m under a magnificent sky of stars, thinking to myself, God damn I’m proud of this family!”
Approaching Darwin, the family couldn’t stop high fiving each other. “We crossed the outback with absolutely no idea what we were doing & we did it together as a team,” says Sarah. From Darwin they flew to Bali so Catur could walk his sister down the aisle. Then it was time to find the healer that he had dreamt of during his second life saving operation. Arriving in a small coastal village, he knew they had come to the right place. To Sarah’s surprise the renowned balian (traditional Balinese healer) suggested that she too needed treatment – she had been putting on a brave front, but the sadness inside was consuming her. “We never expected we both needed healing, though I knew the sickness had wedged us apart from fear and love for each other,” she says. After several visits, Sarah describes a new found openness and a lightness in their hearts. “I could see Catur’s spirit was the brightest it has been in a very long time, full of hope & health.”
Back in Darwin, they headed to Uluru, to fulfill another dream they had – to record a song they had written. Jala was camera man, and Kyan danced in the late afternoon shadows.
Listen to Sarah and Catur’s song Antara
“A road trip was exactly what we needed,” says Sarah. “Sickness causes cabin fever. We needed wide open spaces, we needed to find our confidence on our own again, we needed the adventure to ignite our spirits.” She describes a new found ‘team spirit’ as the family dream up their next goals, chiefly getting back on the road again.
“I have learned that life and death are one and the same and that love always wins,” says Sarah. “Cancer will take Catur from me, but our love will survive. Cancer isn’t always a sad story. There is beauty in everything if we try to see it!