Kerry Geale: My Palliative Care Story
22nd May 2023
Kerry Geale knows a thing or two about life and death.
The former Wagga Wagga Citizen of the Year, parks and recreation manager, city councilor, nurseryman, gardening talkback host, and men’s health advocate also knows “a darn sight more” than he used to about palliative care.
Diagnosed with prostate cancer 14 years ago, Kerry has been receiving palliative care for a while now, sometimes at home and sometimes in hospital. He knows that many people diagnosed with a terminal illness live for years after starting palliative care: that it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘the end’ but is often a beginning that can help people live the best life they can for the time that they may have left.
Like working on a battery
He likens his periods of palliative care in hospital to working on a battery, “but it’s you who’s getting yourself sorted and recharged”. Kerry’s pretty sure he’s lived as long as he has because of it. He believes it is important to talk about dying with family, including children and that the collaborative care delivered by public and private providers in the Riverina is brilliant, whether it’s in the home or a hospital.
Kerry knows that he is now coming toward the end his life. “For a few years I was fine, and in my mind I still am, but limited physically,” Kerry said. “It’s crazy to think I’m going to be dead soon.”
Speaking from his bed on the Mary Potter palliative care ward at Calvary Riverina Hospital, Kerry bravely shared some of his story, and some of his own misconceptions. “When I first started palliative care at the hospital it scared me. I didn’t understand it, I just thought you go in there to die. That’s the general perception. I had the thought that I wasn’t coming back out. I really had no idea about things. “I’ve been in and out of hospital over the last few years for treatment or tests, or to adjust pain medication.
“Being in palliative care actually allows you to live as best as you can with escalating symptoms, and to understand the systems. It helps you live as well as you can for the time you have – or longer.
“I went overseas a couple of times. It was hard but I still did it. I just took the attitude that ‘why should I sit at home and not do the things I want to do – life is for living and I’m not going to waste it’.
Kerry is no stranger to cancer or death. The youngest of identical triplets, Kerry saw his two older brothers, Barry and Wayne, die from bowel and prostate cancer respectively. Over the years he has gone through numerous operations, procedures and treatment to try to beat his hated cancer, alas to no avail.
Several years ago, he saw firsthand the care that was wrapped around his daughter Tracey, a mother of three, before she passed away from breast cancer. “Tracey was here in Calvary and she wanted to go home for Christmas,” recalled Kerry, choking back the tears that always come. “While Calvary couldn’t provide the at-home service in this case, the Wagga Base Hospital could, and its community nurses could support Tracey at home.
“Calvary and the Base Hospital and the community nurses worked really well together. Still do. The collaboration is at a really high level. It works really well. From what I can see, it’s quite brilliant.
“And no, the palliative care unit here at Calvary isn’t only for private patients. You’ve got the whole gamut of public and private patients here.”
“Everything is here. I’ve had great doctors and great care.”
Kerry’s latest stay in hospital has been about seven weeks. “I wasn’t expecting to stay that long but I had to sort out medication, see specialists, get my body sorted out and have some treatment. This has been the best place for it this time – they can get their doctor teams together and they can sort out what to do next. “Everything is here. I’ve had great doctors and great care.”
For now, Kerry’s aim is to head home to spend some quality time with Robyn, his wife of nearly 50 years, his children and his grandchildren, with whom he will no doubt continue his frank and fearless conversations.
“If you had told me that I could talk to my grandkids about dying I would have said you’re crazy. But we’ve had some fascinating conversations. They just joined in, they didn’t shy away from the conversations. I’m very proud of them.
“It’s scary and hard sometimes, but I think it is so important to have these conversations. “The more you talk about it the better for everyone.”