“Cancer is just a word,” says Sarah Widodo. “It doesn't have to be our reality. This is a love story about living with cancer, not surrendering. It’s about making every moment count.”
It is also a story about a 22-year-old Holden Rodeo, Sarah's 34-year-old husband Catur, who has terminal cancer of the appendix, their two boys Jala, 10 and Kyan, 4 – and a spontaneous road trip across the Outback.
Their destination was Darwin, but this was about the journey – after three years of battling sickness, they needed to escape.
“Cancer had made us stagnant, stuck inside a system and reliant on medical help,” says 38-year-old Sarah. “We needed a trip to remind us that we are more than a cancer diagnosis. On the road there is a lot of distance to cover, a lot of time to think, a lot of time to talk and a lot of time to let it all go to the wind.”
Sarah, a singer and dancer from New South Wales, and Catur, a renowned musician from Java, met in Bali in 2004 when he was drumming on stage at a reggae club.
They fell in love at first sight, were married and living in Australia a year later, before returning to live in Bali in 2009, where they founded Hamanah Drum n Dance, an African Dance troupe that performed across the island.
While on holiday in Australia in 2013, Catur was diagnosed with a massive tumour in his abdomen. His spleen, gallbladder and two-thirds of his large bowel were removed.
A three-month stay in hospital was followed by six months of chemotherapy and frequent check-ups. Slowly he seemed to recover.
“We had a new zest for life.”
In February 2015 Sarah and Catur, now living in Wollongong, renewed their wedding vows surrounded by friends and family.
“We had a new zest for life,” says Sarah, who was one year into a Bachelor's degreein Traditional Chinese Medicine. Catur had set his sights on becoming a sound healer.
But in April 2015 a routine hospital visit revealed the devastating news that the cancer had returned. Aggressively. And it was incurable.
Catur underwent a second massive surgery to remove as much of the tumour, and the organs it affected, as possible. Doctors said he had 5-10 years to live.
Her blog That "C" Word allowed her to vent her anguish under a cheeky alter ego, ‘Sarah the Carer.’ Sharing their story on social media also helped lighten the load emotionally and financially, with love and support pouring in from friends around the world.
“I have learned not to take anything for granted,” says Sarah. “Cancer stole our lifestyle, our business, our financial security, our future and our dignity.
“Yet, it has also taught me not to wait, but to live and love now, to fill up our time together with as much love and memories as we can squeeze in.”
With money raised through Catur's 'making it count' campaign on the gofundme website, they made a spontaneous decision to buy a roof-top tent for their car and head for the Outback.
They planned a mad dash for Darwin and then to fly to Bali, where Catur’s sister was getting married. The return road trip would bring them through the Red Centre at a more leisurely pace.
Sarah says, “We had no idea if we would make it, travelling in a 22-year-old beast of a Holden Rodeo and with only $1500 in our pocket.
“But when you have been fighting to stay alive for the past three years, sometimes you just have to go for it, live the life you want and hope for the best!”
By day three, Catur had a newfound spark. “He was finally believing in himself again,” says Sarah. “My heart was exploding watching him transform.”
"I'm under a magnificent sky of stars, thinking to myself, God damn I'm proud of this family."
The boys were having the time of their lives, loving the freedom of the road and the chance to be together as a family.
Each night she updated their FB page Making it count for Catur: BLESS UP road trip. Posting by candlelight, one evening from the crystal-clear hot springs of Mataranka in the NT, she wrote, "Catur is snoring blissfully in the tent and I'm under a magnificent sky of stars, thinking to myself, God damn I'm proud of this family."
Eight days after leaving Wollongong, they arrived in Darwin. “We couldn’t stop high-fiving each other!” says Sarah. “We crossed the Outback with absolutely no idea what we were doing and we did it together as a team.”
After flying to Bali three days later, Catur walked his sister down the aisle.
But there was more. The previous year, during his second massive operation, Catur had dreamed of two men who led him to a beach and told him to come to them to be healed.
Arriving in a small coastal village, home to a renowned Balinese healer, he knew they had come to the right place. The healer suggested that Sarah too needed treatment – she had been putting on a brave front, but the sadness inside was consuming her.
“We never expected we both needed healing, though I knew the sickness had wedged us apart from fear and love for each other,” she says.
After several treatments which included massage, ritual and a form of energy healing, Sarah describes a fresh openness and a lightness in their hearts: “I could see Catur’s spirit was the brightest it has been in a very long time, full of hope and health.”
Returning to Darwin they headed south to Uluru to fulfil another dream. Sitting side by side in the red sand, the rock looming behind them, they recorded a song they had written together. Jala was the camera man, and Kyan danced in the afternoon shadows.
“A road trip was exactly what we needed,” says Sarah. “Sickness causes cabin fever. We needed wide open spaces, we needed to find our confidence on our own again, we needed the adventure to ignite our spirits.” She describes a new found ‘team spirit’ as the family dream up their next goals, chiefly getting back on the road again.
“I have learned that life and death are one and the same and that love always wins,” says Sarah. “Cancer will take Catur from me, but our love will survive. Cancer isn’t always a sad story. There is beauty in everything if we try to see it!
Listen to Sarah and Catur’s song, Antara (the space in between everything).