Loved ones of an Auckland man who died from a brain tumour are to complete a bucket list wish of his to swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco - in the process raising funds for Mercy Hospice.

Emma Duncan said the swim was one of the last things on her father, Ross', bucket list.

Ross was diagnosed with a brain tumour, metastatic melanoma in August 2016. The cancer was aggressive and failed to respond to gruelling radiation and immunotherapy.

He died in the middle of last year, after doctors told him in March 2017 that he had just two months to live.


"He was given two months to live and we spent time together every day. I said one day to him that I might do the Alcatraz to San Francisco swim and he was sort of in denial at this point and said 'I'll be able to watch you but I won't be able to swim'," Duncan said.

After Ross died, a group of 10 family and friends decided to do the swim in his honour.

Duncan said they wanted to make the swim even more meaningful, so they decided to raise money for the Mercy Hospice, at the same time, as it was where Ross spent the last week of his life.

"Even when dad was told he had eight weeks to live and they recommended hospice come on board I was like 'no thanks'. I didn't want them anywhere near dad because it meant we had to accept that he was dying," Duncan said.

Ross Duncan died of a brain tumour in 2017. Photo / Supplied
Ross Duncan died of a brain tumour in 2017. Photo / Supplied

Duncan, previously a nurse, had always planned to nurse her father before he passed, but he was too sick and in too much pain.

"Unfortunately one night he had a massive seizure and he went into a coma, he had about 1000 [seizures] that night, it was horrific. I always wanted to nurse dad myself but when he was seizuring we had no choice but to go there," Duncan said.

"I was devastated, we felt like we had really let him down, he was frightened."

Duncan and her family realised they had been wrong about the hospice when they heard a drinks trolley rattling down the hallway at 11.30am.


"I said to my sister 'Is that what I think it is?' And we both sort of looked at each other and laughed," she said.

"After we settled in it was the most amazing place, it was like a home and everyone was so caring and in a time that should be hell, I just didn't leave for the week that we were there," Duncan said.

Emma Duncan will swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco in memory of her father. Photo / Doug Sherring
Emma Duncan will swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco in memory of her father. Photo / Doug Sherring

Duncan admits the group have their work cut out for them with the swim.

It will cover between 2km and 4km depending on the current and the water will be about 12C or 13C when the group make the crossing in September.

They will also have to contend with the ever-present risk of sharks.

"We did a trial swim out at Narrow Neck [on Auckland's North Shore] a few weeks ago; three of us needed to get rescued by a boat coming in. Two of the group got caught in a rip and I started getting hypothermia," she said.

"It really highlighted how much training the group needs to do between now and then.

"Dad loved doing things like this and he'd be happy we're making it mean something and trying to open people's eyes to the hospice and what a great place it is."

Duncan has set up a Givealittle page where people can donate to the Mercy Hospice.