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Walk for love

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Catherine Ward knows only too well the importance of good medical and pastoral care when someone has a terminal illness.

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The 26-year-old social worker was nine when her mother Elizabeth (Liz) was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the next 15 years, she and her older sister Claire and her father Steven journeyed with Liz until she lost her battle with the disease in February this year.

“I don’t really remember a time when Mum wasn’t sick,” said Catherine.

But it was in the last few years of her mum’s life that Catherine really appreciated the support provided to Liz by Calvary Hospital North Adelaide and, in her final days, the Mary Potter Hospice.

Liz Ward

The former St Dominic’s Priory College student said her mum’s Catholic faith was very important to her and that made being at Calvary special.

“I cannot talk more highly of the whole hospital, but especially the pastoral care,” she said.

“I mean the nursing staff were beautiful and being smaller it was very community based, but mum was quite religious so she made a real connection with the pastoral care team.

“My sister and I could go in at any time, they all knew us by name and people always had time to talk to us.

“It’s a more holistic care, not just medical.”

Catherine said the pastoral care team comprised two staff members and volunteers, including a man called Emmanuel who would take her mum to chemotherapy treatment each week. He would bring snacks for the girls and “talk for ages” with the family. “He came to Mum’s funeral and Dad still catches up with him for a coffee,” she added.

Although Liz was only in the Mary Potter Hospice for a week, Catherine said she couldn’t “rave” about it enough.

“You never want someone to have to go there but if they do then you couldn’t find a better place,” she said.

“Of course it was all about Mum, but when there wasn’t anything they could do for her their biggest focus was on us. There was a social worker available but they also had a make-up artist and a masseuse…and the food was incredible.”

Catherine said it was also comforting to see “all the little details” attended to with her mum such as applying lip balm, brushing her hair and playing her favourite music.

“It’s the little things that make such a difference,” she said.

Since Liz died, the family has continued its connection with Calvary and the Mary Potter Hospice, attending a memorial service that is held in the chapel twice a year and honouring her memory by purchasing a ‘leaf’ on a tree plaque in the hospice.

They also showed their appreciation by gathering together a group of about 20 relatives and friends to walk in the annual Mary Potter Hospice Walk for Love on May 26. Catherine said the family had hoped to raise a few hundred dollars but ended up donating $2000.

“It’s amazing to see how many people want to help because they have had someone at the hospice and want to give back,” she said.

“Once you’ve had that experience you want to make sure other people can have that same support.”

Catherine said people weren’t very good at talking about dying and since her mum’s death she had learnt that it was important to “reach out to people who have lost someone”.

“The staff at Mary Potter see it every day and they can help us with it,” she explained.

While the loss of her mum has made her stronger and given her a different perspective on life, Catherine said she had been helped by the fact that Liz herself was so resilient and positive.

“Mum was extremely resilient…I never once heard her complain and she was strong right to the end, everyone at the hospital loved her,” she said.

“She would say hello to everyone and talk to all the other people having chemo…she was one of a kind.”

To donate to the Mary Potter Hospice Foundation, visit www.marypotter.org.au.

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