Derek Hardy speaks of his wife, Sigrid, with a depth of emotion, as someone who truly loved his best friend for decades. When he first met Sig, she was sewing sailboat sails for his best friend’s business. “We both grew up at the beach less than 20 miles a part – surfing, sailing, and living the shorts and flip flops lifestyle. One day I went to Bob’s sail loft to invite him out to lunch for tacos,” said Derek, describing how they first met. “I looked over and saw a drop dead gorgeous, 6-foot-tall, bleach blonde surfer babe.”
Despite believing Sig was out of his league, Derek continued to create reasons to stop into his friend’s business. A Thanksgiving meal brought the couple officially together and after dating, Derek proposed over enchiladas at their favorite Friday night dinner spot with a 25-cent gumball machine ring. “It was not romantic but we didn’t care. Sig was my best friend since that first day and we knew we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives,” said Derek, Sig’s husband for 35 years.
The couple shared a love for the water. Whether it was surfing, sailing, water skiing, or rowing, they always stayed connected to the water.
In July 2001, Sig went out with the girls to celebrate a friend’s birthday. “She had pizza that night and after getting home got sick pretty quickly. She thought it was food poisoning,” said Derek. She struggled through it for a few days before starting to feel better. But, after a family vacation in August she was in agony, suffering from severe cramps. Derek rushed her to the emergency room and after being told to go home and wait to see if she started feeling better, Derek demanded a second opinion. In a matter of a few hours, Sig was in surgery. A surgeon “opened her up and discovered a large mass wrapped around her colon,” said Derek. Six inches of her colon was removed and the pathology report was clear. “We thought we had lucked out and Sig would be fine,” he said.
But a year later, she was sick again with pain in a similar area. An extended surgery had Derek panicking and this time the news was not as promising. Sig was diagnosed with a rare form of appendix cancer – Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP). According to Derek, during the pizza party Sig’s appendix ruptured due to the cancer but because the cancer is so rare, most cases, including Sig’s particular situation, are misdiagnosed. “The explosion of the burst appendix seeds the abdomen with tumor cells,” he described comparing it to an alien invasion.
With a three-year-old son at home, Sig was obviously extremely upset with the poor prognosis of the terminal disease, but Derek set to work determined to find a doctor who could offer a treatment to prolong Sig’s life. After some missteps with other physicians, long waits for appointments and cross country travel, Derek found Dr. Gregory Graves at Sutter Health in Sacramento. “At our first appointment, after saying hello, Dr. Graves asked Sig a simple but very important question, ‘Sig, do you have hope?’” said Derek. “Sig said yes and Dr. Graves told us to be back in two weeks for the surgery.” Derek and Sig were relieved to find a doctor with a more promising outlook, and this is where the two of them embarked on a journey of hope. They were lucky to find Dr. Graves and their battle to beat cancer was on.
Derek quit his job and the couple headed to Sacramento in June 2003. Sig’s surgery lasted 12 hours. “They opened Sig up from sternum to crotch and put their hands on every part of her to find and remove tumors. She was then filled with heated chemo and transferred to the ICU clean unit,” said Derek. “Dr. Graves told us her body would survive this trauma but he was concerned she would become depressed and die in the hospital, which is why he asked if she had hope.” For five days, with Derek at her side, Sig endured a specialized heated chemotherapy called HIPEC, lying in a special bed that kept her moving so the chemo flowed around her abdomen.
Sig was told this probably would not be the last surgery and she was given a 3-5 year prognosis. But Sig and Derek didn’t listen to the prognosis. They were determined to put the cancer behind them. She recovered and the family moved on through their life. In the summer of 2004, Sig was doing well and feeling like her old self and they decided to adopt a second child to raise in Olympia. Giving up was not in the equation in their desire to live life to the fullest. Looking for activity, Sig took a Learn to Row class at Olympia Area Rowing (OAR) and was immediately hooked on the sport. It would turn out to be a group of people that were also hooked on Sig. Derek said, “Sig grew up on the water and loved the ocean, so rowing was just another extension of her love for the water.”
In 2008, Sig wasn’t feeling well and initial tests said the cancer had returned. Sig reluctantly left Olympia and headed back to California for another extensive surgery with Dr. Graves. Derek, who works in the construction industry had good health insurance. But then the recession hit, causing him to lose his job and the family’s insurance. “We had no insurance, no income, large credit card bills, hefty hospital charges and two kids. We were really struggling,” said Derek. “When people at OAR found out, they poured their hearts into our family. People came forward with money, food, clothes – it was the first time I understood what a village was. OAR literally saved us.”
The family made it through this difficult period but they found themselves back in Dr. Graves’ office in 2014 with Sig not doing well. The cancer had spread into Sig’s chest with a tumor laying on her heart. Another surgery ensued, this time having to crack her chest. While in the hospital, recovering from surgery, they were determined to make the most of their time together. Derek and Sig started the self-named Running Club of Sutter General Hospital. “If we’re going to be in the hospital, we better make it an adventure,” said Derek recalling some of the wackier antics the couple conspired to do to keep Sig moving and therefore recovering. “Sig was quite silly and the queen of practical jokes and she kept her sense of humor throughout her recovery.”
Two years later, Sig was back in the hospital. The surgeons had to perform bypass surgery because the tumors were extensive and removal was extremely challenging. This time Dr. Graves was very forthright, telling Sig and Derek the end of the road surgically had come. In 2016 the PMP in her chest returned once again, but with no surgical options remaining Sig opted for radiation which seemed to help temporarily. In 2017 with Sig’s cancer rapidly advancing, there were limited options remaining. Always resourceful, Derek started researching and found an immunotherapy program. With insurance unwilling to cover the expensive treatment, local Providence oncology staff found medical grants available through the pharmaceutical industry and got her the immunotherapy treatment she needed. “Sig had an intense will to live,” said Derek. With the immunotherapy only slowing the growth of the cancer, Sig turned to Oregon Health Sciences University in January of 2018 to participate in a clinical trial. But by the end of March 2018, she told Derek she no longer had the strength to continue. She was very in tune with her body, and she knew the end of their journey had come.
Sedated by morphine due to the intensity of the pain and inability to breathe, Sig’s family celebrated her 56th birthday on April 10, 2018 while she slept. On the evening of April 11, Sig asked to double the morphine because she could not breathe and could not get comfortable. At 4:00 am on April 12, 2018, Sig told Derek she loved him, took the oxygen tube from her nose and passed away 30 minutes later at their Olympia home. “She did it her way. She was in intense pain.”
Sig was known to be a hardworking person who devoted 28 years of her life to caring for animals as a veterinary technician. She worked closely with Dr. Kim Martin and the team at Steamboat Animal Hospital and Hawks Prairie Veterinary Hospital. Despite having a personal fear of needles, Sig cared deeply for animals. Derek said her own animals helped her through the recovery of each of her surgeries.
“Sig was the kindest and most forgiving person I’ve ever known,” said Derek. “People took care of her because of what she did for them.”
Derek organized a celebration of Sig’s life in July 2018, following a Hawaiian surfing tradition. Many members of OAR joined Derek and the kids that day, creating a circle with their boats with Derek on his surfboard and Sig’s surfboard in tow. Sig’s board was decorated with flowers and her ashes. With great emotion and Hawaiian chants of returning her to the sea, Derek cast her ashes into Budd Inlet with the members of OAR surrounding him in their boats. Derek said, “When Sig was out rowing, she would inevitably see a seal raise its head, often following her in the waters of Bud Bay. She nicknamed her water friend ‘my boyfriend.’” And with great amazement, after casting Sig’s ashes into Budd Inlet, a seal popped up 15 feet away. But then a second seal popped up next to it. It was a very impactful moment as Derek knew Sig was with him, and she was where she wanted to be – back in the water.
Sigrid Hardy leaves behind her husband, Derek, and two children, Cameron and Julia. Her large network of friends also miss her dearly.
Managed by The Mayday Foundation, The Sigrid Hardy Memorial Scholarship was created in April 2019 with a goal of helping Thurston County high school graduates impacted by cancer pay for college expenses. Students who have or have had cancer or whose parents or siblings have or have had cancer are encouraged to apply. Private donations along with proceeds from the June 23, 2019 Two-County Double Metric Century ride fund the scholarship.
“I am grateful that people are so generous and that generosity has Sig’s name attached to it. We’re just a middle class family trying to get by every day,” said Derek. “Cancer throws a cloud over a family and this scholarship will throw some sunlight back into their lives.”
To donate to The Sigrid Hardy Memorial Scholarship, please click here. Applications for the inaugural scholarship cycle are being accepted through May 20, 2019 with a decision in early June. To apply, visit The Mayday Foundation’s application form.