Narelle – Palliative Care

I work as a palliative care Community Volunteer at Calvary Kogarah. The reason I became a volunteer was because my older sister died of ovarian cancer.  As I lived in another state and was working full time, I was unable to care and be there for her and her husband in the way that the volunteers through Calvary ACT were able to be.

After her death, I made a promise to myself that when I retired I would become a palliative care volunteer and give to carers, their family and loved ones the support that my sister had received.

My clients come from all walks of life and have various forms of cancer or MND. One of the things I love about being a volunteer is the people you meet and the wonderful life stories they share with you.

As a volunteer, these people open up to you as you are not a nurse, doctor, family member or a relative. You are someone who they can talk to about how they are feeling, their fears about dying or just someone to chat to about everyday activities and you, in turn, are able to share your life experiences with them.

People’s reactions when you tell them that you are a palliative care volunteer can be mixed. Most people tell you how wonderful you are or how sad it must be for you, some even reach out to take your hand or pat you as if you are the person dying. This is quite contrary to how I feel.

Yes, there are times when I feel sad but a lot of the time I am in awe of my clients. Their courage, sense of humour, smiling faces, warmth and genuine interest in you when they are dying and facing their own challenges is truly inspiring. 

One of the other things I love about volunteering is the opportunity to assist the carers. In most cases, it can be as little as one hour a week. Whatever the length of time, I am able to give carers the opportunity to step away from their everyday tasks and take time out for themselves. Being able to go for a walk, have a coffee with a friend, spend time in the garden, sitting quietly to read a book or just walking through a shopping centre are all things we take for granted. It is not until you “walk in their shoes” that you find out how much they benefit from your time each week.

Whilst palliative care volunteering is not for everyone, my advice to anyone thinking about becoming a volunteer be it at Calvary or elsewhere, is to be yourself. If you enjoy meeting, being around people and are willing to give up a little bit of your time for others in your community who need help and companionship then consider giving volunteering a try.

Narelle volunteers at Calvary Health Care Kogarah public hospital in Sydney, NSW.

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