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Cancer battler’s last flight

Lesley and Ralph Wardle hold a picture of their son Stuart who died of cancer in June. PHOTO/EMILY NORMAN



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Within half an hour of winning a helicopter ride, a Wairarapa family’s world came crashing down when their son was diagnosed with cancer.

He was supposed to fly on the helicopter with them when he got better, but this never happened.

His ashes will take to the skies instead, to be scattered at Riversdale Beach.

Lesley and Ralph Wardle, of Featherston, had won the helicopter ride in a Parkinson’s Wairarapa raffle at the end of November last year.

“Probably within about half an hour of that, we got a phone call saying our son Stuart was in hospital, and we were asked to please go to Wellington,” Mrs Wardle said.

Stuart, 46, who lived in Johnsonville, had been suffering neck pain for some time, and had been seeing doctors “over months and months” with no success in finding the cause of his pain.

“In absolute desperation, he went into Wellington Hospital and he asked if he could get a scan,” Mrs Wardle said.

“They said the only way he would get one is if he paid for it himself – so he said, book me in.

“Two days later, we got the call.”

“It was colon cancer they found out in the end, but it was secondary, and it had gone right around the vertebrae at the top of his neck and was literally strangling his spine.

“So they blasted the heck out of that with radiation, and that gave him a little bit of respite, but an awful lot of pain.

“They thought they were on top of it.”

Mrs Wardle said her family had spent many hours planning “the great helicopter ride for when Stuart got better”.

“When we planned for the big day, we got the phone call the night before and Stuart’s wife Tanisha said he was back in the hospice.

“I thought he would be out of the hospice after one or two days, but that was kind of it really.”

His cancer became terminal in May this year, and he died on June 9.

Now, the Wardle family, are waiting for a perfect day with clear skies to take his ashes up on the helicopter and scatter them at Riversdale Beach – a place that was close to Stuart’s heart.

“When the weather gets fine and Tanisha is feeling a little better, that’s when we will have the helicopter ride around Wairarapa.

“He wanted his ashes spread at Riversdale, so maybe we could fly around there.”

Stuart grew up in Featherston, and attended Featherston School and Kuranui College, before going on to Victoria University where he graduated with two Bachelor degrees in building and architecture.

He did not have children.

“Stuart was a lovely lad,” Mrs Wardle said.

“He kept apologising to everyone for being sick – he’d just say sorry all the time.

“He was selfless – a very nice guy.”

Mrs Wardle said the helicopter ride had been a shining light at the end of the tunnel for Stuart while he was sick, and said she was happy to have been able to support Parkinson’s Wairarapa through the raffle.

“Parkinson’s is such a debilitating thing for the people who have got it.

“My aunt Alice Cotter helped set up the Parkinson’s Society in Wairarapa. She died last year.”

Mrs Wardle said she was grateful to Wairarapa Helicopters, the company who had donated the ride for the raffle, for their understanding and empathy over the past several months.

She also wanted to thank the people at Mary Potter Hospice in Wellington who had looked after Stuart, and the staff in Wellington Hospital’s oncology ward who were “absolutely fantastic”.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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