Stories of compassion: Nicky’s journey in palliative care

Categories: Care.

My husband Dave and I entered 2014 with great excitement as we had planned our trip to the UK and the Isle of Mann to visit our daughters and their families. I had the added joy of going to meet my first grandchild to be born end of April 2014.

I had the strong feeling to invite my 90 year old mother who lived in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal to come and spend two weeks with us in Cape Town over Easter before we left for the UK on 10 May.

We always treated her visits as though they could be the last and this time we had the pleasure of taking her for a guided tour in the golf buggy around Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens, enjoying fish and chips at Fish Hoek beach on one of our special spring evenings. A real highlight was taking her to see Swan Lake ballet which she loved.

Mum’s last sunset

The day before we had to admit her to hospital, we took her for a two hour ride in a wheel chair along Sea Point promenade and through Green Point Park. We decided to take the long way home, stopping to see a most spectacular sunset – little did we know that this would be Mum’s last sunset.

Our dear Mum was the great family matriarch and we all loved her dearly. To honour her on the occasion of her 90th birthday in September 2013, all the family had gathered in the seaside town of Cape St Francis to celebrate this big milestone.

My daughter had made a photobook of her life with pictures of all the family and a message from each of us. This was a real treasure for her and in retrospect we are so thrilled we were able to express our love and appreciation when she was still alive rather than doing this only at her memorial service.

Admission and diagnosis

On Easter Monday after her wheelchair walk, my Mum – who had lived a good healthy life – woke up with terrible pains in her stomach and I admitted her to hospital.

The Emergency Room was chaos. It took three hours to see a doctor with my mother sitting in the waiting room in real agony. After another three hours of tests and x-rays we had her comfortably settled in the ward.

The following week was hectic. As the only daughter in Cape Town I had to take full responsibility of speaking to doctors, oncologists, making decisions, trying to understand all the medication she was on, visiting Mum two to three times a day, keeping all the family around the country updated and feeling very responsible for our great matriarch.

After extensive tests, the doctors diagnosed Mum with final stages of liver cancer.

As a family we agreed that chemotherapy treatment was not an option due to the Living Will which we had drawn up soon after I had attended a presentation at our HPCA conference the previous year on: ‘The advanced care plan and living wills’.

Bear in mind that Dave and I were due to fly to the UK in two weeks’ time and we really did not know at that stage that “final stages of liver cancer” meant Mum would only have 10 days to live. 

A bittersweet experience

It was a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, I was excited at the thought of becoming a granny, as my daughter was due her baby at this time, and yet here was my dear Mum in her final stage of life.

Thankfully we have a very close knit family, and my two sisters and their daughters came down to Cape Town to support me in the care of Mum and to say goodbye before she took her final breath to be with the Lord Jesus she had faithfully served.

It was a very emotional time and Mum went down very fast.

We are grateful that we were able to share the news of the birth of her 10th great grandchild three days before she died and, in sharing this with her, she  breathed her grateful thanks to the Lord. 

A loving nurse friend of ours kept encouraging us to speak, pray and read the scriptures to Mum as she would most likely hear despite her being heavily medicated.  

We spent many hours doing this and for the last three days of her life she was in a private ward so it was a real privilege as her children to take shifts to be at her side 24/7 and have special moments with her.

‘Wonderful work’ of hospices

I have always admired the work of our hospices and over the time that I’ve been at HPCA, I’ve had to change my perception, realising that hospices are not necessarily the place where people go to die.

I have always been impressed with (HPCA CEO) Liz’s passion for palliative care and how she constantly advocates that it is the right of every person on this earth to receive palliative care when they need it.

This whole experience has given me a greater urgency to share the wonderful work our hospices do in providing palliative care.

Read the Nicky’s full story on the Stories of Compassion section of the HPCA website

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