Life couldn’t have been any better for Andy and Vashti Whitfield. It was 2010 and Andy was about to begin filming season two of hit TV show Spartacus: Blood and Fire. Married for over a decade, desperately in love and with two beautiful children – Jesse and Indigo – nothing could have prepared them for the devastation of the next 18 months.
Andy was about to be diagnosed with lymphoma – the cancer that would end his life.
Now, a newly released Netflix documentary that follows those last months gives a raw insight into what it’s like to watch your husband die from cancer.
It’s called Be Here Now, a motto Andy had tattooed on his cancer-ridden body, and it’s one of the most confronting documentaries I’ve ever watched.
Even though I knew how this journey would end for him, I couldn’t bring myself to believe it.
This incredible man, husband, father-of-two, talented actor and amazing soul went from determination and positivity at the beginning, to crying and shrieking in pain during an MRI.
The pain was so bad, he said he had given up.
Shortly before his death Andy began to feel better. Happy, positive and ready to work.
Speaking a year after her husband's death, Vashti spoke about the challenges of raising their children now that he is gone.
"For me I lost my best friend, I lost my husband of like 10 years, my lover of 13 years and it hurts like a f*cker but the reality is, is that I got 13 years of the most extraordinary relationship and lived a crazy life and a beautiful life. I don't see how you can't turn something like this into something wonderful, because what else is there to do? And he would be so proud because it has all been initiated by him."
Every time I watched Andy's family, as they hugged him and kissed him, I wondered, I hoped, they'd remember their time with him.
Andy had just become a star after the success of TV show Sparticus: Blood and Sand when he was first diagnosed with cancer, at Stage Four. He was successfully treated, firstly in New Zealand where the show was filmed, and was in remission ahead of filming of the second season of Spartacus. It was during a scan for insurance purposes ahead of filming that he discovered the cancer was back.
He took a quick trip to India for some alternative treatment before beginning chemotherapy again. It failed, as did the chemotherapy and subsequent radiation therapy.
The family was forced to move shortly before his death because he could no longer manage the stairs. He then lost feeling in his left leg and needed crutches to get around.
"He was so in and out of lucidity and suddenly he did this snap into focus and he said, 'I want to go home', because somewhere in him he knew it was time to go, and he wanted to go home," Vashti said.
The most heartbreaking moment is watching Andy tell his children, "I'm gonna go soon. I have to go up to heaven because my body is really broken."
It's taken six years to release the documentary with filmmaker Lilibeth Foster and producer Sam Maydew requiring extra funds to complete and edit the film after his death.
Andy and Vashti wanted the film released, despite the fact they had no idea it would end with his death when they first decided to do it. It was Andy's hope that by watching it, the rest of us who are faced with challenges or have dreams reach our full potential and make the most of this one life we are given.
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