Frederick and Dee De Niet are surrounded by an adoring family and live a beautiful life amongst the idyllic postcard backdrop of the Barossa Valley, but life has not always been kind to this loving couple.
In 1998, Fred and Dee tragically lost their 23-year-old son in a car accident. This was an unimaginable loss to bear but together alongside their two daughters and son they have endured. Their late son, Ben continues to live on within the names of their doting grandchildren and great grandchildren and the beautiful daughter he left behind.
“To us he is always with us. He might not be here physically, but we feel his presence. His name lives on in our grandchildren and there will always be that sense he’s looking over us,” Dee said.
Since that time they have remained a close-knit family living within 10 minutes of one another. Some years later Fred and Dee’s youngest daughter, Chantal was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32 and continues to remain on hormone treatment. This was another challenging time for the family but Fred and Dee and their children continued to support Chantal and her own young family through her treatment. Their daughter’s cancer diagnosis was an all too familiar experience with Fred having lost a brother to leukaemia and his father to lung cancer.
Early this year, the couple went on a cruise to New Zealand. In a grateful lucky escape, Fred and Dee decided to move their cruise forward to February which saved them from being passengers on the the Ruby Princess cruise affected by COVID-19. However shortly after returning from their holidays Dee had a heart attack and was admitted to hospital for a quadruple bypass.
Fred wanting to be by his wife’s side before her surgery was going to cancel an appointment with his GP but Dee insisted he go as he’d been experiencing pains on the right side of his chest. Dee’s instinct to keep the appointment was right; the GP was concerned with Fred’s results and sent him for further scans and referral to both a cardiologist and lung specialist – as Dee was going in for surgery Fred was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“I must admit that when I was told Dee was going under you could knock me over with a feather. It scared the daylights out of me. So having to go through my own health scare at the same time added even more stress,” said Fred.
Having had previous heart procedures, Fred thought there was something wrong with his heart again, so the Big C came as a shock.
“It was all too familiar news having been through something similar with so many family members. It shook me up a bit, I didn’t know what to think. But there was also Dee to worry about so I tried to take the news as best I could.”
With Dee still recovering from surgery their two daughters took care of their father making sure he was never alone at any of his appointments.
“When I heard the news, I wasn’t worried about my surgery, I just wanted to be there for him. But our two girls naturally took over and looked after their Dad for me,” said Dee.
“Having been through breast cancer herself Chantal has never stopped looking out for me. She took it upon herself to say ‘Dad you are going to need my help cos I’ve been there and done that. You are going to listen to the doctors, and if you don’t I’ll be on your back’,” said Fred.
Fred went on to receive chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation therapy at the new Icon Cancer Centre at Windsor Gardens, an easy commute straight onto the highway.
“When we first found out I could have my chemotherapy as well as my radiation treatment at the new Windsor Gardens centre it was a real relief. I couldn’t imagine having to go to two different places,” Fred said.
On top of the stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis, Fred would continue to receive treatment during COVID-19 restrictions. Being residents of the Barossa Valley, Fred and Dee made the safe decision to move in with their daughter during the Valley’s COVID-19 outbreak.
“It was a bit frightening (to receive cancer treatment) but we listened to the recommendations and kept safe. Our daughters would help do the grocery shopping and clean the house. The measures within the centre were easy to get used to and we made sure not to go out,” said Fred.
On returning to their Barossa Valley retirement village they were greeted with a social distancing street party complete with a welcome home gift of essential toilet paper.
“We’ve been fortunate to retire in such a beautiful place with such friendly people. Although we are no longer 10 minutes from the kids we still see each other often even now over FaceTime. Although it has been hard not seeing the grandchildren as much, being able to talk over video has been wonderful,” Dee said.
Although the journey has been anything but smooth sailing Fred and Dee have felt grateful for everything from the ease of attending appointments to the personalised care at each step.
“It has been a journey I wasn’t expecting but when I walked into the centre it wasn’t what I was expecting either. It was bright and welcoming. There have been some pretty rough days but the doctors and the team have always been very honest so nothing came as a surprise. I was always able to prepare for what was coming,” said Fred.
“Everyone at the centre would also look out for me and would ask how I was. They say to smile is good for the body and I think that’s what it feels like when you walk into the Icon centre, a big warm smile,” said Dee.
For the De Niets, their three children, eight grandchildren and four great grandchildren give them the strength to get through the very worst. Their eldest daughter has just become a grandma and continues to care for her disabled daughter and still be there for her parents in their own time of need.
“Our children all have a lot of their plate, but everyone is always there for each other. We are really quite lucky,” said Dee.