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Remembering Jayne

2016 Relay for Life honours those loved and lost to cancer. Ahead of this weekend's Relay for Life in South Australia's south-east, Mr O'Callaghan opened up about the family's seven years of living with cancer's highs and lows.

Story and image by: Kate Hill at ABC

In the cold and pouring rain, Jayne O'Callaghan wasn't able to walk far at the 2014 Relay for Life event.

Thin and weak from radiation treatment, Jayne stayed for a few hours, put on a smile for her group of friends and ended up going home and cooking a big pot of zucchini soup for them all because she was worried they would get cold. 

It was typical Jayne behaviour, said her husband Chris, to worry about everyone else and not let anyone see how sick she really was from the breast cancer that would steal her away just a year later.

Ahead of this weekend's Relay for Life in South Australia's south-east, Mr O'Callaghan opened up about the family's seven years of living with cancer's highs and lows.

Mr O'Callaghan first saw his future wife working for a Northern Territory tour company in the year 2000, the attractive blonde chef fond of a laugh and a wine in equal parts.

"Jayne was an incredible person and someone who captured everyone's heart as soon as they met her," he said.

Both fond of travel, fitness and loud dinner parties, the outgoing pair's attraction was obvious to all and it wasn't long before romance led into the birth of young Daniel and then Emma, followed by marriage in 2004.

Diagnosis and beginning treatment

Shortly after their third child Louise was born, Jayne was breastfeeding when she found a lump in her left breast.

Chris remembers the date exactly — the 13th of June 2008 — the day Jayne rang to tell him she had stage 4 breast cancer.

Later that week in Adelaide, the rollercoaster of doctors' appointments, surgery dates and treatment plans began, with a doctor telling them Jayne's cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and was at a critical stage.

Jayne was told she could expect anywhere from three to five years of life left.

Driving home later that day, Chris said the couple "were dumbfounded".

"We didn't know what to think or what to feel," Chris said.

The lump, and 10 lymph glands under Jayne's left arm, was removed and Jayne began chemotherapy and radiotherapy six weeks later.

Jayne responded to her treatment very well and by September 2009, Chris said she began to feel like her old self.

Jayne took up long distance running and encouraged a group of friends to take on triathlons and half-marathons with her and the house was again filled with the smells of Jayne's cooking, including her signature curries.

His wife was strong willed and reluctant to be beaten, but there were good years and bad years, Chris said.

A good year was in 2011 when they headed off on a year-long trip around Australia, taking the year to see everything they always wanted to see and creating a lifetime of memories.

But bad news awaited their return, when they were told Jayne's cancer had spread into her lungs, into her kidneys and finally, into her bones.

The final months

From the time Jayne made her appearance at the Relay for Life in March 2014, her health started to go downhill steadily and she had lost weight, her strength and her mobility.

"It was very hard on her. She knew time was very short. We all did," Chris said.

The couple was open and honest with their kids, helping them get used to the idea that mum would not always be around.

"Jayne used to say to them, 'I probably won't be here for your wedding, or your 21st birthday'," Chris said.

Of course, Jayne's major concerns were not for herself but for her family and how they would deal after she was gone Chris said.

Although Jayne wanted to spend her final days at home, assisted by the palliative care team and struggling to breathe on her own, Jayne had to be taken to Mount Gambier Hospital.

Early on Monday morning, April 20th, Jayne passed away. She was 40 years old.

With tears streaking his face, Chris recalled his happiness that Jayne passed away knowing he was there, right beside her on the bed.

"I had her with me and I held her, right to the very last minute," he said.

Relay for Life funds to hit million dollar mark

Nearly a year on, Chris said he felt happy knowing money raised from this year's Relay for Life would go towards the services he and his family used during Jayne's seven-year battle.

This year, the event is expecting to hit the million dollar mark in fundraising, with the funds going towards research and the Cancer Council's lodges in Adelaide, where the O'Callaghans stayed.

Services invaluable to him and his family were Mount Gambier breast care nurse Julie Campbell and the local palliative care team, which was saved from job cuts after a successful community campaign last year.

Chris described the services as "critical" for families facing a cancer battle and said he believed more funding should be directed towards the costs faced by country people travelling for treatment and accommodation facilities.

"The research and obviously trying to find a cure is obviously a massive part, but unfortunately there is a lot of money tied up in those things," he said.

"It's a lot of the support and groundwork that is so critical to families to get through and to be able to manage it."

On Saturday, a team called Jayne's Possums — nicknamed after Jayne's penchant for possum socks to warm up her chilly feet — will be lining up along 31 other teams at the Blue Lake Sports Park.

On Saturday night, Chris and the kids will head out on the field for the carers' and survivors' walk, saying it will be a very difficult and emotional time but they will finish with Jayne in their hearts and thoughts.

"We'll do it, because we want to do it for Jayne," Chris said.

"She never stopped, right to the very end."