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‘I’ve have had palliative care … and I’m still here’

Living

ADVOCATES John Joyce, Foxford (centre), encourages people to embrace palliative care and not to fear it. He is pictured with fellow hospice users Evelyn Wakefield, Burr, Co Offaly (left), who has stage-four metastatic breast cancer and was told she’d have two years to live three years ago, and Claire Gray, Newtownards, Co Down, whose three-month-old baby passed away from Edward Syndrome in 2014.

Interview
Anton McNulty

JOHN Joyce can still recall the moment he was lying in a hospital bed with three women standing over him saying they were from palliative care. ‘I’m a goner now’ was the Foxford man’s first reaction.
The 58 year old was diagnosed with lip cancer five years ago, and despite having 72 sessions of radiotherapy over three years, he was informed two years ago that he had a tumour that was inoperable and incurable.
John spent a further six weeks receiving treatment in Galway University Hospital before he was introduced to the palliative-care team. He now realises that it’s not just about end-of-life care.
Before, John recoiled at the mention of palliative care, but now he has no fear. He says the  team has ‘taken the fear out of the words Palliative Care’.  

Live well
Last week marked the fourth year of the All-Ireland Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care (AIIHPC) palliative care awareness week, which ran until September 9. The theme for this year’s campaign is ‘Palliative Care – What have you heard?’. The idea is to get people to question their understanding of palliative care and to encourage them to find out more.
Palliative care focuses on helping people of all ages to live well with an illness that’s life-limiting and achieve the best quality of life as their illness progresses. It can also provide huge support to patients’ families and loved ones.
John undergoes chemotherapy every two weeks to ‘keep the tumour at bay’, and is very grateful for the help of his palliative-care team.
“I live at home at the moment and they come to see me once a week to check on me and see if there is anything they can do for me. They help me with pain management and help give me a better quality of life. But it is more than just pain relief, they help me with things right across the table.
“I had to stop work because the chemo had an affect on my heart, and the team were able to tell me what I was entitled to. It is little things like getting a free bus pass that help you with your quality of life … without the team I wouldn’t know where to start,” he explained.

New understanding
John worked in the bar trade with Diageo for a number of years as well as being a rep for the National Lottery across Mayo, Roscommon and Galway. He was first diagnosed with lip cancer when he went to the doctor after getting a cold sore that would not go away.
The intensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy has caused one side of his face to droop a bit, but he says it does not bother him or stop him doing what he likes.
John has moved from thinking he was ‘a goner’ when palliative care was first mentioned to now wanting people to understand what it has to offer.
“People should embrace palliative care and not be afraid of it. ‘Palliative’ can be a dirty word, but it shouldn’t be. They are there to help you and will allay any fears you have. I have had palliative care for the last two years, and I’m still here.”

For more information on palliative care, visit the All-Ireland Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care’s website, www.aiihpc.org; the Irish Hospice Foundation’s website www.hospicefoundation.ie; Mayo Galway Roscommon Hospice’s website www.hospice.ie; or www.thepalliativehub.com.

Coffee morning fundraisers
It’s hard to believe, but this is the 25th year of the countrywide coffee-morning fundraisers for Irish hospices. This year’s Ireland’s Biggest Coffee Morning for Hospice takes place next week, on Thursday, September 14 – and Mayo Roscommon Hospice is once again calling for Mayo people to host a coffee morning to raise funds for their local palliative homecare service.  You can register at www.hospicecoffeemorning.ie, by calling 094 9388666 or by emailing Jo on info@hospice.ie. Hosts are provided with a Coffee Morning Pack containing Bewley’s coffee, posters and invitations free of charge. All money raised in Mayo will stay in the county.

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