In 2016, Helen Hatzis passed away after an eight year battle with ovarian cancer. In an interview with Body and Soul before her passing, Helen called the cancer “a bitch of a disease,” but said her “diagnosis really crystallised how lucky I am to have these people in my life.”
By “these people,” Helen was referring to her husband, two children, parents, siblings and friends. The support network she sadly left behind when she passed.
To mark Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, The Greek Herald decided to pay tribute to not only this courageous woman, but also the people who supported her on her journey. We spoke to Helen’s brother, Nicholas Kalogeropoulos, who shares what it was like seeing his sister battling ovarian cancer, as well as how he dealt with losing her.
The difficult conversations:
According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF), one woman dies every 8 hours from ovarian cancer in Australia. In fact, if a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the chance that she will still be alive five years after is only 46%.
In Helen’s case, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008 and lived for eight years after. But Nicholas says it was when Helen was battling her sixth occurrence of the disease that there was a shift in her attitude.
“What we found was that each time she went through remission, as the years went on, the period of remission was less and less,” Nicholas explains to The Greek Herald.
“Helen could see the writing on the wall because she was constantly down rather than up. And it was at that time that she wanted to start having conversations about death and about what happens after she dies.”
Nicholas says that at first, he tried to be the ‘eternal optimist’ by encouraging Helen to focus on getting better. But a year before she passed away, he finally succumbed to having the difficult conversation.
“She basically said to me, ‘I need to talk about death. I need to talk about what’s going to happen after I go. I need to make sure that you hold the family together’,” Nicholas says.
“These were really, really difficult conversations to have with somebody who’s been your older sister all your life.”
‘It was awful. Helen was our rock’:
Only a few months later, at the tender age of 51, Helen passed away in hospital. Her death, although not unexpected, still left all her family and friends heartbroken.
“It was awful. Helen was our rock. She was the one who would keep all the family together,” Nicholas says.
“My mum was just wailing. She could not understand why God would take her daughter and not her. So my mum had a really, really hard time dealing with that… The last thing you want to do is bury your child.”
For others, what hurt the most was knowing Helen was going to miss important moments in the lives of her two children, Georgeena and Nicholas.
“Georgeena was about to turn 21 years old and Nicholas was about to finish Year 12 VCE. But unfortunately, she passed away I think, seven days before he got his results. It was awful.”
Remembering Helen’s kindness:
In the months after Helen’s death, her loss began to be felt. Nicholas says her children and husband ‘miss her immensely.’ For his part, Nicholas is constantly reminded of his sister, even from the smallest of things.
“As the years go on, even now, sometimes it just feels so unreal. I could be driving along, I could be at a traffic light, I could be looking at a billboard, and it will remind me of Helen. I will just sit and think for a moment, you know,” Nicholas says.
Finding ways to memoralise Helen was important to Nicholas to keep her memory alive. It’s for this reason that he holds a cocktail party, called 35+GST, every two years in her memory. His sister, Christina, and their extended family also formed the Helen’s Hope Committee to honour her life.
“Between my sister and I, I think… we’ve probably raised about $60,000 for the OCRF. It’s just our way of remembering Helen.”
A woman who was clearly more than an ovarian cancer patient. She was a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt and friend. Someone who, as Nicholas makes clear, will never be forgotten.