An Enduring Vow - Visitor's Story
by Joe Palermo (Melbourne, Australia)
As there is not enough awareness about Ovarian Cancer, I am doing whatever I can to change this so other women won't have to go through what Kim did. My daughter, Sarah also wrote a very inspirational song dedicated to Kim which we are now selling with all proceeds going to Ovarian Cancer Australia.
Click here to hear a sample of the song.
Kim's story is below...
A tiny fair-haired girl zoomed past me on her bike seconds after our school bell sounded. She let out a yell. "Fancy coming to the pictures?" she called. It was my first year at high school in Keilor East, Vic, and while I was still finding my way around the maze of classrooms, bubbly Kim Wilcher from Year Eight was full of confidence. Watching this pint-sized tornado flying past, I found it hard to believe she was older than me. But what Kim, 13, lacked in size, she made up for in personality. "So are you coming?" she asked, when Isaw her later at the shops in East Keilor. It was February 1971 and I'd never had a girlfriend before, so I said yes.
The movie wasn't great but sitting quietly in the dark holding Kim's hand was the best moment of my life.
For the next few weeks we were inseparable. We hung out around the oval at lunch times and held hands by the shops each night.
But timetables and homework proved too intense for our puppy love and by the end of term we were content with being mates again.
I was 17, with a new career in the computer industry, when I leaned that Kim had moved to Adelaide seeking adventure. But my intentions already lay with the Italian girl I'd met at my friends 18th birthday. We'd had a few dates and soon Renza and I were in love.
We married on January 15, 1983, in a traditional catholic ceremony. We had three children David, Sarah and Lisa but, over time, we weren't happy together.
Towards the end, our relationship deteriorated rapidly and I spent our 19th wedding anniversary in 2002 - alone in my office.
What's to celebrate? I thought, as an unexpected late night email popped up on my screen. "I don't know if you remember me, but you were my first boyfriend. I used to ride my bike on Milleara road towards the centreway shops. Are you married now? I'd love to hear from you." Who's this? I wondered, racking my brain. Then suddenly it all came flooding back. The girl on the bike? Kim, I smiled, hitting the reply button. Only three days earlier, I joined a website called friends reunited. I hadn't expected to hear from anyone so soon, and certainly not from my first girlfriend on my wedding anniversary.
I smiled at the irony as I logged on the next day and was thrilled to find another email from Kim. "I can't believe you're still in Keilor East," she wrote, asking about my family. It was great to catch up with her and soon we were emailing daily, reminiscing about our school days. "That's you in the year seven photo," she said, emailing an old primary school picture. Kim and I had got on like a house on fire all those years ago and things hadn't changed one bit. What's more, our lives had amazing similarities. We both had three kids and were in long-term relationships which were not going well.
Two weeks later, rather than email, we decided to speak in person, so Kim gave me her mobile number. It was lovely to hear her friendly voice on the end of the line, and a month later we met in Sydney. "I can't believe it's been 30 years," I said. "You've put on more beef," she teased, hugging me. "You haven't changed a bit," I said, studying her dimpled smile. We chatted away about life, our failing relationships and Kim told me about her three daughters, Melissa, 24, Jodie, 22, and Belinda, 17. "I've only stayed for the kids," she admitted. "Me too," I said quietly. But Kim had plans. "When Belinda finishes her exams in November, I'm leaving," she said. And in that instant I realized that I still loved Kim. Fate had brought us together at last. "I can't lose you again," I whispered, tenderly kissing her goodbye.
Back in Melbourne our daily emails and calls made life bearable as we planned a new life together. I'd already redecorated the rental unit I owned in sunshine for Kim's big move to Melbourne. But I felt so guilty about my children. "I can't do it," I cried to Kim down the phone one day. Her soft sobs drifted back down the line to me. "It's hard for me, too," she whispered.
But another dinner at home with my family spent in stony silence brought things to a head. Renza and I discussed our relationship and decided it was best if we went our separate ways. Relieved things were out in the open at last, I packed my bags. I was waiting at Melbourne airport in November 2002 with a huge bouquet of red roses when Kim's smiling face appeared in the crowd. "This was meant to be," I said, hugging her.
But although I loved Kim dearly, I desperately missed my kids, in bed one night, Kim sensed my sadness. "If you want them to live with us, I'll care for your children," she offered. In 2004, she was true to her word when Renza agreed to let the kids come and live with us for good. "Cuddle me," asked 9-year-old Lisa, climbing onto Kim's knee. The children adored her and by New Year 2005, Kim was as busy as ever, juggling renovations with being a full-time mum.
We were now one big happy family. "You need to slow down," I warned one night, worried as she flopped into bed, exhausted.
For weeks she'd complained of backache. Now, with a tummy ache and bloating, she finally rang the doctor. "No more beer or nuts," he warned. But Kim wasn't convinced diet was her problem.
In June 2005, as we snuggled in bed, Kim began gasping for air. "Something's terribly wrong Joe," she panted, as I dialled triple-0. The doctors at the local hospital in sunshine studied her x-rays. "There's fluid around her right lung," they told us, then arranged for Kim to be transferred to Footscray hospital for more tests.
I was working when the specialist rang me. "I need to speak to Kim and you urgently," he said, his tone serious. "How soon can you get here?" Arriving at the hospital, Kim and I went into the doctor's room. Stroking her hand gently, we waited anxiously. "What's wrong with Kim?" I asked. "It's not good news," he said solemnly". "Kim has ovarian cancer." My heart shattered into a million pieces. After so many wasted years. Fate had led Kim back to me and now I face losing her all over again. "But I have pap smears every two years," Kim stated, shocked. "Pap smears are no protection against, or indication for, ovarian cancer," the doctor said bowing his head. He explained only a CA125 blood test could identify ovarian cancer and only then combined with a transvaginal ultrasound and CT scan. "It's called the silent killer because the symptoms are so vague," he explained. "It's often advanced by the time we find it."
While I struggled to cope, Kim astounded me with her positive attitude. "What do we need to do to beat this?" she asked. "I have a family to care for." Treatment started immediately and over the coming weeks Kim was rushed to surgery for a hysterectomy and removal of her ovaries. Gruelling bouts of chemotherapy followed. To get through it, Kim found a new focus. "I'm going to be here when Jodie has her baby," she vowed, looking forward to becoming a grandmother, "and for my 50th birthday in January."
While her nearest and dearest crumbled around her, she was everyone's rock. "You can't get rid of me that easily," she told us. Yet in our quiet times, she'd confess that cancer wasn't part of her plans. "We've only just found each other," she'd say. "I know, love," I'd croak, trying to stem my tears.
Holding her hand through each blood test and chemo session, I banished thoughts of losing Kim, sharing her pride when, on January 28, 2006, she held Jodie's newborn son, Jackson. "I'm your nana," she whispered to, vowing that she'd be around for his first birthday.
A few weeks later, my daughter Sarah, then 16, came home from school with some surprise news "I've won the music schools annual singing contest," she said, "The prize is to record a CD." Sarah refused to tell any of us what her song was about. We heard it for the first time when she took to the stage of the M and A School of Music.
"It's called Be Strong," John St. Peters, owner of the academy, announced to the audience. I could barely find the words to speak as Sarah sang of courage and hope. "She's written this song for you, Kim," I whispered, as tears trickled down her cheeks. The next day I contacted Ovarian Cancer Australia, the national charity supporting women suffering with ovarian cancer, telling them all about Sarah's CD in hope that it would inspire other women battling this disease.
In January 2008, Kim celebrated Jackson's first birthday and her 50th. We marked it with a photographic portrait of the entire family, including Kim's mum Norma, and a meal at Crown Casino's Conservatory restaurant. With no sign of cancer in her tests, the doctors stopped her chemo and we had hope.
But, two weeks later, Kim interrupted her birthday treat - a helicopter ride across the city. "Something's wrong," she said gasping for air and ordering the chopper to land. At St Vincent's Hospital, doctors explained Kim's lung had collapsed. "We need to prepare her for surgery urgently to drain the fluid from around her lung," they said. Kim returned home weak from the operation but, within a few days, was readmitted. "You won't be going home," her doctors warned gently, as Kim began to fade. Throughout the day, Kim told us she loved us, and instructed me to dress her in black stilettos and her favourite red dress. "Don't forget the red coffin," she said. "Or the video that I've made for afterwards.". At 9:30pm on March 2, the last day of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Week, the girl I'd first fallen in love with at school finally gave up the fight. A week later, we lay Kim to rest at Fawkner Cemetery. Back at home we watched the video that she had recorded for us. "To Joe, the love of my life," Kim began. "Six years just wasn't enough," I sobbed. "You will never know the depth of my love," she continued," I will never leave you."
I'll treasure those words in my heart. Kim's video stands among photographs of her in a shrine I've created as a legacy. Surrounded by Ovarian Cancer teal ribbons, wrist bands and silver bell brooches, this little corner of our hallway is a reminder of a new mission in my life, which for weeks lacked any purpose at all. I'm determined to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for the silent killer which stole my twin flame soul mate from me.
"That's a pretty brooch," commented a female bank teller, noticing the silver bell on my jacket, as I closed Kim's accounts. I handed her an information leaflet, telling her our story and hoping the knowledge that might have saved Kim, could one day save her if she ever contracted the disease.
For more information on Ovarian Cancer contact:
Ovarian Cancer Australia on 1300 660 334 or
Back to Inspirational Stories
Return from An Enduring Vow - Visitor's Story to Homepage