A recently widowed new mum says more than $50,000 raised by her “village” will give her 5-week-old son the life his father would have wanted.
Aucklander Kirsty Mitchell lost her husband and best friend Scottie to bowel cancer earlier this month, just two days after they were married in Middlemore Hospital, and a month after the birth of their son Harrison.
In the week since, tens of thousands have been raised for Kirsty and Harrison through a Givealittle page set up by Scottie’s childhood friend Ben Watson.
Kirsty said the generosity had been overwhelming, and Scottie would be happy to know his family were being looked after.
“Scottie and I had to have some pretty on-the-nose conversations towards the end, with the advanced care planning, and there was one question that asked ‘what worries you’,” Kirsty said.
“Even though it was supposed to be about him and his pain, the thing that was going to hurt him the most was that I wasn’t going to be able to look after Harrison.”
“Our village is making sure that worry of Scottie’s is not going to come to fruition.”
Described as a “kid to the end”, a lover of music and football, and a loyal friend, Scottie Mitchell was diagnosed with stage four bowel cancer at 34 in November 2018.
Friend Ben Watson, who has known Mitchell since they were 10, said he was one of the fittest people they knew, playing football right up until the month before his death.
While their cancer journey had always been one of palliative treatment, Kirsty said it was only one part of their lives in the two and a half years since the diagnosis.
“If you met Scottie at the pub he’d probably be shouting you a drink, and he’d be drinking a whisky or a beer and telling you all about some new guitar he’s read about.”
“So many people would have met us and never known that once a fortnight Scottie got cancer treatment.”
“The person Scottie always was – cancer or no cancer – was that vibrancy and love, and just a really, really decent person who wanted the best for everyone.”
As Scottie’s treatment progressed, Watson said the couple had always turned down offers for help, even though the financial burden and sacrifice was “unbelievable”.
“Scottie and Kirsty always worked good jobs and had a reasonable income but it’s taken everything they have to give.”
“We all grow up never expecting to be in this situation.”
Even with health insurance, and selling her house in Australia, Kirsty said the financial cost of Scottie’s ongoing treatment had been huge.
“In the last six months I think we’ve paid in excess of 50k and we’ve been doing this fight for two and a half years,” she said.
She said cancer was a tough road for every family, but it was not fair that having money should make all the difference.
“You have to have the money to be able to fight a disease that doesn’t discriminate – there’s nothing we could have done to not get cancer.”
Along Scottie’s cancer journey they had met other patients who had been forced to make devastating choices because of the high cost of unfunded treatments, and hoped changes to the health system would address the inequities in accessing this.
“Someone’s life shouldn’t come down to money,” Kirsty said.
“The whole point of western health and medicine is that we look after everybody and everyone gets a fair shake. And cancer is not that in New Zealand.”
“It’s not fair that people need to be choosing between a house, or educating their children and fighting cancer.
“That should never be a choice that anyone has to make.”
With her family in Australia and the UK, Kirsty was grateful for the support of her “village” in New Zealand, especially throughout the past few months.
On the day their son Harrison was due, the couple were told Scottie’s treatment was no longer working.
“On that same day they told us we should be induced to bring Harrison into the world sooner rather than later,” Kirsty said.
She was grateful Scottie had been around to see his son’s first month of life, and had got the opportunity to hold, bath and feed him.
“There’s amazing stuff that we got to do but still a lot that we didn’t,” Kirsty said.
“There’s things that he said he wanted to do that he didn’t get to do, like he wanted to be able to take Harrison for a walk and kick a footy.”
“But the village is going to make sure that Harrison knows exactly who Scottie was.”
Dressed in a little suit, Harrison was also able to watch his parents get married on Friday July 2, two days before Scottie died.
While the couple had been engaged since December 2020, they had been holding off on a wedding throughout the pandemic, in the hope Kirsty’s family overseas could attend.
But as Scottie’s condition worsened, the hospital staff had encouraged the pair to do what was most important to them, and they planned a wedding for Sunday, July 4.
When the staff returned on Friday morning, and asked again about the wedding, Kirsty realised that Sunday might not be soon enough.
“So I just looked at Scottie and said ‘Do you want to get married today?'”
With the village springing into action, Kirsty and Scottie were married in a decorated ward of Middlemore Hospital on Friday night.
Friends decorated the ward with flowers and balloons, brought five dress options to the hospital for Kirsty to try, and the couples’ rings were resized within hours.
With Kirsty’s family attending via Zoom from Australia, they were married by a family friend, with Ben – who had introduced the couple at his own wedding nearly three years prior – signing as a witness.
Even though Scottie was on dehumidified oxygen and a morphine pump, he was able to say his vows, and they were able to marry in front of close friends, family, and their son.
Although not all of her family could be there, Kirsty said she would not have had it any other way.
“If we had waited until the Sunday we would never have been able to do it,” she said.
“He died on the Sunday morning so it would have been one of those things that was left undone. I never would have had the same last name as Harrison and Scottie and now I do.
“I got to marry my best friend … it was an amazing day.”
Ben and Kirsty wanted to thank everyone who had already shown their support through the Givealittle page.
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