Her Life

Caroline was hugely grateful for three things: that she was a New Zealander, that she was a "country girl" who grew up on a farm, and that she was part of a close family. She loved to travel, and enjoyed what the city had to offer, but she was happy to head home, and used to talk of the importance of being "grounded".

The early years

A photo of a laughing smiling Caroline aged 2Born at Dannevirke on December 5, 1978, Caroline was the only daughter of Anthony and Bibby, and sister of James and Edward. She grew up on the family farm, Te Kouka, a place she loved dearly.

Major character traits were evident from the start. She was independent, fearless and strong-willed. She loved animals, she loved food, and she loved having fun. Dressing up and putting on mini-performances were major pastimes, and her imaginative flair resulted in amazing - often hilarious - works of art. She made friends easily, first in the Puke-Otope Play Group, then at Central Kindergarten, and from the age of five at Dannevirke South School.

Academic work came easily to her - she was very bright - but she soon realised that being picked out and praised had its drawbacks: years later she admitted that not standing out from her peers became more important than pleasing the teachers, and so she often kept her mouth shut even when she knew the answers. She had abundant energy, and at school she threw herself in to whatever was going - netball, swimming and cross-country running were favourite sports. She obviously showed leadership skills as she was made head girl in her final year at primary school.

Caroline and Miss Joan Irvine, 1991.
Teacher Joan Irvine with Caroline

Caroline was a thinker, widely-read and articulate. Passionate about environmental issues, when she was eleven she joined Greenpeace and, with a friend, "adopted" a beach to clean up during the holidays. She was intrigued by Māoritanga, enjoying school visits to the Marae and the opportunity to give her mihi in Māori. Out of school activities included Brownies, piano lessons, drama classes - and dance. She began learning ballet with Joan Irvine at the age of five, and over the next few years went on to learn National, Tap, and Modern Dance. She adored an audience, but was equally happy to perform alone, trailing ribbons behind her as she leaped in her bedroom, tapping in the kitchen. Dance was her passion, and practice was a pleasure not a pain.

Caroline in the Royal New Zealand Ballet production of "The Nut Cracker" 1991. It was Miss Irvine who suggested that Caroline apply to the Royal Academy of Dance Summer School in London, to fit in with a family holiday in England in 1988. It was a dream come true. She did really well - was quickly moved up two classes, and ended the course by being awarded a scholarship. Back in New Zealand she was chosen as a child extra for the Royal New Zealand Ballet's production of "The Nut Cracker," and she danced and acted her heart out as Snow White in a marvellous Dannevirke production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".

Off to secondary school

Caroline as dux at Woodford HouseAt thirteen Caroline went as a boarder to Woodford House School in Havelock North, and again she went for it. Academic and sporting successes continued: she was awarded her colours for netball and athletics, became Deputy Head Girl and Head of Frimley House, won academic and drama scholarships, carried away prizes in six subjects in her final year, and was Dux (academic head) of the school.

As the Principal wrote in her testimonial, she possessed "a rare combination of ability, interest and self-motivation". But, again, what really fired her were all forms of artistic expression. An award for drama in 1994 enabled her to attend the National Youth Drama School, where she chose to do specialist training in Improvisation and Mask. She began to write really good poetry, acted in school productions, debated, did public speaking, played the piano - and continued to dance. This required considerable self-discipline: she had to return to Dannevirke for weekend classes, and then during the week she'd get up very early and take her tape-recorded music to the empty school gymnasium to practise.

Her Gap Year

Caroline the big eater - France 1997.
France, 1997

Caroline loved her Woodford years, and the wonderful friendships she made there were to be an enormous source of support to her later, when she became ill. But she was ready to leave school at the end of 1996, excited by the new challenge of a Gap year in England. She went to The King's School Canterbury, where she worked as a student teacher in the PE Department. From the start she had a ball: she taught swimming and dance, coached and umpired hockey, netball and tennis, volunteered to help on geography field trips, theatre trips, Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, and CCF Navy days!

She shared a house with two other Gap students, both male, and when the Headmaster commented that she seemed to handle the situation well, she replied that she had bossed two brothers around all her life, so of course she could cope! She financed holidays in the UK and Europe by working as a barmaid and waitress for the school catering department. She got on well with students and staff, and they obviously liked her as much as she liked them - when she left, the head of the PE Department wrote a reference for her which referred to, "her smiling, energetic character shining through all she did", and which concluded with the comment, "above all she is a lovely person to be with."

University and Ill Health

The year in England was great, but it was back in New Zealand, at the University of Otago in Dunedin, that Caroline felt most at home. She chose to study Physiotherapy, even though she was offered a place in the medical school after her Health Sciences intermediate year. Interested since primary school in dance therapy, physiotherapy seemed to be the way to reach her goal, and - after considerable discussion - she managed to persuade the relevant lecturers and departmental heads to allow her to take dance papers on top of physiotherapy papers. The work load was huge, but she sailed through with outstanding exam results. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

Caroline celebrating her 21st birthday with her parents.
Caroline with Bibby and Tony in Wellington Hospital on her 21st birthday, December 5, 1999


Then at the end of November 1999, when working as a Cookie Time salesperson in Wellington, she started to feel breathless and unwell. She reluctantly went to see a doctor who diagnosed a collapsed lung. A friend took her to hospital, where X-ray staff were amazed that she'd managed to walk in to see them, let alone sell cookies round the city. The lung was painfully re-inflated, and she was allowed home to Te Kouka. However, the next day a doctor rang to say they had looked at her final X-ray, which showed the lung had collapsed again, so she went back to Wellington and was told she had to have major, emergency chest surgery. It was tough, but Caroline showed the extraordinary courage that would get her, and all who cared for her, through so many hospital experiences. She celebrated her twenty-first birthday in hospital on a drip, surrounded by balloons, flowers, champagne, family and friends. Everyone wanted to be a part of it - the hospital kitchens made a special cake, and the other patients on the Cardio-Thoracic Ward were caught up in the sense of occasion that Caroline always managed to create. (It was in this ward that she met Zoltan Kapate, a lonely Hungarian refugee who was touched by her friendship towards him. When he died a few weeks later, he left Caroline $5000 in his will.)

Because she was so fit, she recovered from the operation remarkably quickly, and she looked forward to returning to Dunedin at the end of February. She arranged to see her specialist when she was on her way to catch the ferry, imagining she would be signed off from Wellington Hospital. But instead, she was told that she had an extremely rare paediatric cancer - pluero-pulmonary blastoma - and that she would see an oncologist later that day. So began her life as a cancer patient. (In 2008 her parents learnt that this diagnosis was incorrect. Caroline's cancer was a type of spindle cell sarcoma of a sort unknown in any other patient).

Caroline and her dog Mobi at the time of chemotherapy, Wellington, 2000.
With Mobi, 2000

Caroline handled seven months of chemotherapy, and all it entails, with unbelievable spirit. She accepted that university studies were on hold, and decided that this was an opportunity to learn Italian, paint, write and practise yoga. Stays in hospital were grim, and she had some lousy days, but her friends gathered round, and in September she finished her treatment.

Soon after, she went on the first of two visits to the Gawler Centre near Melbourne. She was inspired and re-energised by the ten day residential programme for cancer patients and their care givers. The self-help principles taught there, on meditation, nutrition, and positive thinking, underpinned the way she lived her life until she died. They helped her to overcome her anxiety about returning to student life, and they gave her the courage to quit Physiotherapy.

Mike a male patient at Gawler wears Caroline's wig dances with Caroline
Dancing at the Gawler Centre, November 2000

At Gawler she had learnt about Mind - Body medicine, and she knew she wanted to help people within the holistic health model. Following her passions, she changed to Anthropology, and also took the papers Dance in Education and Dance in the Community. Socially she struggled for a while: though she longed to just be "normal" and one of the crowd again, she came to realise that wasn't possible. She tired easily, and so began to work on lifting her energy levels through yoga, walking at the beach, dancing, and practising and receiving Reiki. She also found that writing helped: she enjoyed writing academic essays, and her poetry became a release valve for her feelings.

Regular check-ups with her oncologist in Wellington were arranged to fit in with trips to the new family home in Marlborough. For eighteen months Caroline was in remission, but then in April 2002 - in the middle of the first semester - the tumour returned. She underwent another major operation, and this time her entire left lung was removed. Caroline's attitude to this experience is expressed in her BOOST paper which was written as a dance course requirement. It discusses the healing process, and the role of dance and somatics in promoting a wider perception of health. It also conveys her acceptance, her humour, her command of prose and poetry, and her determination to live life to the maximum. Her dance tutors, Ralph Buck and Sylvie Fortin, persuaded her that the paper was worthy of publication, and - this is what really gave Caroline the biggest thrill - they treated her as a colleague. She felt she was part of the dance fraternity.

Within a month of having her lung removed, Caroline was back in Dunedin and ready to start a six week course of radiotherapy. At the same time, she started rehearsals for "Swan Lake", as a courtier in the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Dunedin performances.

Caroline positively danced through her final weeks as a student: she helped at the Otago Arts Festival, she organised a holiday job as an assistant researcher for The Centre for the Study of Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CSAFE) under the directorship of Associate Professor Hugh Campbell and she managed yet another string of straight "A" results. She had decided that Otago was her favourite place in the world, and that she wanted to stay there with her boyfriend Rick Stace.

Caroline's last months

Caroline kayaking in the Abel Tasman National Park, January 2003.
Abel Tasman, January 2003


Rick and Caroline spent Christmas 2002 with their families in Marlborough, and then they kayaked in the Abel Tasman National Park before returning to Dunedin in mid-January for Caroline to start work at CSAFE. She had been offered a permanent position there, and she loved the work; however, suddenly she was struggling physically, and in early February she rang home, admitting she was not well. She was admitted to hospital within a week, and tests showed a number of tumours in her chest. She knew that the treatment options had been exhausted, and she politely declined the offer of palliative chemotherapy, choosing to become a community patient of the Otago Hospice.

Caroline and Rick Stace become engaged, February 2003.
Rick and Caroline

It was at this stage that friends started to arrive, many flying in from overseas, to surround Caroline and her family who were staying in rented accommodation near to the hospital. She looked beautiful, and began to feel stronger now that her pain was under control, and the benefits of a blood transfusion had kicked in. Her doctor and good friend, Jim Jerram, described this time as "Caroline's Indian Summer". The sun shone and she dazzled. On February 21st she and Rick became engaged, and four days later the

Caroline at her graduation with University Chancellor Eion Edgar and Caroline's boss at CSAFE Assoc. Prof. Hugh Campbell
Graduation. Caroline with Hugh Campbell (left) and Chancellor Eion Edgar

Chancellor of the University, Eion Edgar, conferred her BA in Anthropology and her Graduate Diploma in Dance at a very special, and speedily organised, ceremony in the garden.

Caroline and her brother Edward playing her piano at 78 Walton St.
Playing on the newly-delivered piano with brother Edward.

This magic time continued through March - everything seemed unreal, anything possible. One afternoon, David Cappel Rice, the Dean of the Cathedral, relayed to the family and Rick that Caroline wanted only two things to happen: to have her piano to play on (this wish was fulfilled within hours), and to move into the house she and Rick had bought in Roslyn. So everyone set to work, and 78 Walton Street was cleaned, painted, and ready for them to move in on March 22nd. A new phase began, with picnic lunches on the lawn behind the house, impromptu dinner parties, and visitors galore. Health professionals called in regularly, and special equipment was delivered to enable Caroline to enjoy every minute of the time she spent in "The Nest".

Caroline lived three wonderful weeks at 78 Walton Street before going as an inpatient to the Hospice. Her family and Rick stayed with her there until her death two weeks later, on April 28th.