Walking the road together

What do you think when you hear the word: “hospice”? A common perception is that hospice is a place to go to die. This was also my own view until I was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), which led to my finding out more about Helderberg Hospice.

Cancer, as with any other life- threatening diseases, confronts us with our own mortality, which is something we would prefer to avoid.

My family and friends reacted in one of two ways: they either ignored the fact of my illness (which was the most painful for me), or got extremely emotional and cried. I ended up feeling that I had to be strong for the sake of my loved ones, although I had never before in my life felt so desolate and lonely.

A good friend desperately wanted to help, but did not have the slightest idea about how to help. She contacted Helderberg Hospice, and I soon received a visit from their social worker. It was a tremendous relief to talk to someone other than family or friends about my personal emotions and the threat of dying. Here was someone who listened to me.

She immediately arranged for a nursing sister to visit me and evaluate the general condition of my health. My biggest problem was the pain I was experiencing and, as pain management is a specialisation of hospice, they immediately addressed the problem and ensured my pain levels were brought under control. They also prepared me psychologically for surgery to remove one of my kidneys.

A further concern for my husband was my post-operative care after discharge from hospital, as he would be at work all day. Helderberg Hospice addressed this need by admitting me to their in-patient facility at Hospice House, where I was given excellent medical care until I was able to move around easily, bathe myself and prepare a meal.

Even after surgery and being declared in remission, they continued to follow up on my progress, as I also suffer from a longstanding heart and lung condition. Apart from receiving regular visits from a home care sister, I attend a day hospice group once a week, where interaction with other patients keeps me from becoming isolated. The volunteers organise outings, teach us new skills with arts and crafts and keep us positive and feeling worthy as a human being. Illness should not isolate us, shrink our world and remove our dignity. My group has become my “family” and my emotional support.

Hospice services are available to anyone who suffers from a life-threatening disease. Their service is dependent on donations from the public, participation in fundraising events, and by supporting their second-hand shops selling clothes, books, furniture and bric-a-brac.

Volunteers play a pivotal role in supporting hospice care and help to significantly reduce organisational and running costs. I thank them for their ongoing, loving support.

* Helderberg Hospice is hosting a talk on “My future, my decisions”, on Friday April 15, from 10am to noon.

When we think about our futures, some things are easy to talk about and plan for. But how many of us plan for our future health care needs, particularly if we might find ourselves in a situation where we are unable to speak for ourselves?

It’s time to set aside the taboos and have the conversation with loved ones about your preferences for care if you were to experience serious illness or injury. In our society we tend to avoid the subject of death but it is a reality of life. We delay the conversation, and then suddenly it could be too late.

Family and doctors need to know our preferences and choices; it will enable their decision-making at a crucial time.

You are invited to an open forum to encourage discussion on being in charge of your own future care preferences.

Tea and eats will be available.

For more information, contact Patricia McNaught Davis, at 082 731 5736.