This week is Hospice Appeal Week, a local initiative to highlight the funding shortages experienced by Hospice Whanganui and to raise awareness.
What does Hospice Whanganui do?
“We are not just the house on the hill: we are so much more than that,” says Kelly Scarrow, who is in charge of Hospice Whanganui fundraising, communications and marketing.
Kelly’s good friend Helen Puaha knows what Hospice Whanganui does. Helen has cancer. She is at home, where she wants to be, and still being cared for by staff from Hospice Whanganui.
Helen was a teacher at Faith City School before illness meant she was unable to work. It started as endometrial then metastasised.
“A part of my story is my family history,” says Helen. “My mum passed away with cancer, as did a number of members of my family. So when I found out that my cancer was terminal, it brought about a bit of fear. My mum, and maybe my aunty and uncles, wanted no involvement whatsoever with Hospice. It’s especially so with Maori people: it’s about bringing it home, bringing it back to the family and having them care for you.
“I came back from Australia to help care for my mum but it put a lot of strain on the family because we didn’t know what we were doing and didn’t know what was expected of us. When I found out I had cancer, I did not want to put that strain on the family.”
Helen was first diagnosed with cancer in 2000, and had a number of periods where it came and went. Then last year, not long after Kelly started working at Hospice, Helen received the news that her cancer was terminal.
“I went to Hospice to see Kelly in her workspace before I was diagnosed, had a look around, got to hear about all the exciting things she was doing with Hospice, and it took away a lot of that uncertainty.” When Helen got her final diagnosis, she already had a good idea of what Hospice could do for her, and with a friend there, she was able to get an insight into the workings of the organisation. “Wanting to get Hospice’s help was probably one of the first decisions I made.”
Her sisters, a big part of her support system, were relieved with her decision.
Her first call to Hospice was for advice on how to manage all her pain medication.
“Hospice provided someone for me to call at night.” She says they are there for her 24 hours of every day. “There was always a doctor or a nurse I could ring at Hospice, they’d provide information … and equipment as well.” Helen now has a hospital bed because, for a long time, she was unable to lie down and resorted to a recliner chair, which was too short.
Of course, she still has family support and her sisters will spend the night if she needs them.
It was the people at Hospice who were able to get her an urgent appointment for radiotherapy to shrink a tumour that was pressing on nerves at the top of her spine. Kelly drove her to Palmerston North.
Not long after that appointment, Helen had something that worried her and, after a phone call from Helen, a doctor from Hospice made a home visit. All part of the service and a vital part of keeping the patient informed.
“Information and knowledge provide understanding,” says Helen.
“Helen has always been hands on with her health,” says Kelly, “and wanting to know, not just accepting.”
Helen has had nurses come around and do “something unpleasant … which is more comfortable in my own home, than if I had to go to Hospice or the hospital to have it done.”
She says communication between Hospice, the hospital and her GP at Gonville Health is exemplary. “I just say, this is happening, and they sort it out amongst themselves.”
The Hospice Whanganui service is free to anyone in the community, regardless of the fact that the organisation is only partially funded by the Government.
This week is Hospice Appeal Week. Hospice Whanganui needs funding now to continue to be able to help people like Helen.