Henderson Media

They put themselves in their shoes

December 3, 2019

When Tessa Mao was diagnosed with stomach cancer in September 2015, there were a couple of questions she was just too afraid to ask.

As a Chinese-Muslim, the Federation University academic had little idea of the Australian health system – or, most importantly, how she could be buried according to her religious beliefs.

“There were things I wanted to know about, for both my culture and my religion, but I didn’t want to ask,” Tessa said.

But luckily Tessa had been put in touch with Ballarat Hospice Care, particularly bereavement support counsellor Liz Dawson.

“Liz brought up funerals in an open and honest way. I wanted to know if there were any Muslim funerals in Ballarat, but I didn’t have the courage to ask.

“Liz knew more than I thought as she had attended professional training in this area.

“I was more comfortable asking questions of Liz because she was really open, and I could share my preferences openly with her. I like to talk and deal with people with open minds.

“After our first meeting, Liz found out about the mosque in Ballarat and went there to meet with the Imam. She went much further for me than I thought she would.”

After intensive chemotherapy, Tessa returned home to China for a holiday but, on her return, found her cancer had worsened, which was when her oncologist Dr Craig Carden recommended Ballarat Hospice Care.

“I said ‘what is that’? When I found out, I didn’t want to be placed in that basket.

“But it’s been great. I have all this extra support I couldn’t access anywhere else.”

Her first encounter with Ballarat Hospice Care was with palliative care nurse specialist David Quinney, who opened her eyes to the services available.

“He asked me questions about wills, power of attorney. He opened my mind more broadly, not to the disease, but to the social support that existed.

“I was really impressed by the broad range of services they provide.”

As migrants, Tessa, her husband and daughter don’t have any family support, but she said Ballarat Hospice Care stepped in to fill the void.

“They have given very solid support to people who are in quite a vulnerable position.”

Tessa said all the Ballarat Hospice Care staff she deals with are very professional but not in a cold way.

“They are very warm and caring. They are not just dealing with people’s bodies but their minds too.

“They are face to face and at the same level, there is no distance. They put themselves in our shoes. This is something I’ve never experienced.”

For specialist palliative care nurse Leanne Burns, putting herself in her patients’ shoes is what first attracted her to Ballarat Hospice Care 18 years ago.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Leanne said,

“I can sit and talk to patients and ask how they are feeling and they know I really care about the answer.

“I was over treating palliative care patients by their obs – I wanted to sit beside their beds and hold their hands.

“For me, this is a very precious time and you don’t get it back again.”

When Leanne first started at Ballarat Hospice Care, there were 35 patients on the books and handovers involved massive stacks of paperwork.

“Technology has enabled us to use our time better – there is no way we could carry big piles of folders everywhere today.

“The type of patient has changed too. We are dealing more with non-malignant illnesses, such as motor neurone disease and cardiopulmonary disease, so we are constantly having to update our education as well.”

Leanne said her aim as a palliative care nurse was to walk away feeling like she had made a difference.

“If I can make someone’s life that little bit easier when they really need me, then that’s the best job in the world.”

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