“Don't ever stop fighting.” That's what Cilla Veldhuizen tells people.
She's been fighting cancer for seven years, and has been terminal for two.
Cilla found out she had breast cancer after getting a sore breast from falling at a movie theatre. She went to the doctor to have it checked, and that's when an indent near her nipple was revealed to be cancer.
“Apparently it's quite common to start in the nipple, which is quite easy to miss,” says her husband Jared. It's now spread to most of her body, and she is in palliative care.
Jared and Cilla have been together for 19 years, having met when he was 17. She put an ad in the local newspaper looking for a guitarist to form a band with. He answered, they hit it off, and six months later ‘hooked up'.
Their band is Helmet in the Bush, which has been playing about as long as the Veldhuizens have been together. Last month friends and family gathered for a final tribute to the frontwoman, in which she sung four moving songs to a crowd of more than 400.
Since then, the cancer has worsened. Jared now cares for her at their home in Tahuna, where he works as a dairy farm manager.
“She put all her energy into that night,” he says.
When Jared talks about his wife, he speaks fondly. When he describes their relationship, he says they've been ‘together and in love' for all those years in which they've also raised three children.
He thinks husbands and children can do so much more for their wives and mothers who face ‘the big C'.
“I've seen so many women at treatments having to face it on their own and it really is a bloody nightmare. So if you do have someone close to you fighting cancer, get involved and do more. There are always ways you can help – don't wait to be asked.”
Cilla's advice on the night of her concert was ‘don't be proud, get yourself checked'.
“Know your body, and fight for it,” she says. “Don't settle for what you're told medically. If I could do it again I would make different choices, such as natural options, as I think many of the treatments did more harm than good.
“Things like going vegan helped slow the rate the cancer was spreading. Although it's too late for me, I hope my story will help others.”