Helderberg Hospice: A chat with CEO, Gail Sykes

Categories: Care, Community Engagement, and People & Places.

I’m sometimes asked what brought me to Helderberg Hospice. And the quick answer is – personal experience.

When my husband and I were struggling with his cancer we were desperate, not knowing where to turn for information, advice and plain ordinary practical help.

It’s unfortunate that professionals in the medical system couldn’t give us what we needed – but  Helderberg Hospice did.  For the first time, someone didn’t talk at us, but to us.  The Home Care Sister’s first question to my husband was, ‘What do you want’, was a huge relief.

The common misconception that Hospice only means ‘death’ and is, therefore, to be avoided at all costs, saddens me. Receiving the diagnosis of a life-threatening condition is terrifying for both the patient and loved ones. And we quickly found out that Hospice is actually about affirming ‘life’ after that diagnosis, rather than death.

I’m so grateful that we didn’t make the frequent mistake of waiting too long to take advantage of all that Helderberg Hospice offers.  The day to day exceptional nursing, the management of pain and other distressing symptoms, and the freedom to phone for help at two in the morning ensured quality of life as our journey went forward.

Afterwards, I wanted to be part of this incredible service which is available to everybody in our community, no matter their status so I became a volunteer.  Starting with reception, I quickly worked my way through catering, fundraising, special events, and trained as a bereavement counsellor.  Then unexpectedly, with the retirement of our CEO at that time, I found myself approached to take her place – a position which I now occupy with humility.

The phrase, ‘know us before you need us’, has heartfelt meaning. We’re here for the Helderberg community.  But we also need the Helderberg community to know and support us.

To learn more about Helderberg Hospice and the work they do, click here

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