Hospice helped me to accept

Like most people, Sharon Cloete had preconceived ideas about hospice and hospice care in an in-patient unit: “I believed that you go there to die, but I’ve since discovered that’s not the case.”

The 61-year-old is currently an in-patient at Stepping Stone Hospice in New Market Park. Her on-off battle with cancer has reached the point where any form of intervention would prove futile. She agreed to this interview and the writing of an article  “as it is important to me that others suffering from life-limiting illnesses understand how hospice care truly makes a huge difference in the lives of patients and their families.”  

“Cancer runs in my family,” she explains. “I discovered my first lump when I was 16; then another at 18.” She eventually had to undergo a double mastectomy, mere months apart, at the age of 47. “I was fine for five years after that, but then it appeared again in my lymph glands.”

Sharon has the greatest respect for her oncologist, Dr Sylvia Rodrigues, who is well known in Alberton and serves on the Board at Stepping Stone. “She has always been very honest with me. It was a dreadful shock to hear that there was nothing more we could do. I cried terribly about it, yet I have always appreciated Dr Rodrigues’ honesty and straightforwardness. I truly don’t know how she does it.”

With the cancer now in her bones, even something as simple as a comfortable bed makes all the difference to Sharon. “I have it in my spine, ribs, pelvis and hips. I cannot lie straight. I have these bumps on my spine which are very painful.”

She finds comfort and relief in the new bed in her unit at Stepping Stone. “I can understand why it isn’t always in a person’s best interests to be at home when they are terminally ill. I love my husband dearly, but he isn’t medically trained. The nurses here truly ‘know’ when I talk about how I am feeling and they have direct access to my doctor if needed. I feel secure in the knowledge and expertise of those around me.”

When asked how she feels about her family, looking back on her life and what’s to come, Sharon understandably becomes emotional.

“I was scared in the beginning, but death doesn’t scare me now. I’ve always been a fighter, but I feel like being at hospice has helped me cross over to the side of acceptance. I just want to go in peace.”

Sharon knows that most people would prefer to see out their life’s journey at home, but she would rather be at hospice when the time comes. “I know it’ll be dignified and that my family will be supported here.”

Sharon has been married to her husband Jakes for 42 years. Her only son Kevin is 39 and her daughter-in-law Jane occupies a particularly special place in her heart: “God truly picked the best flower and sent her to me.” She also has two beautiful grandchildren – a grandson who is almost 7 and a granddaughter who is 3. “I had so many plans with them,” she says, visibly upset.

Do people act differently around her now? “Yes, sometimes,” she admits. “I’ve lost almost 30kgs, so I know I look very different to the people who’ve known me for a long time.” Sharon says she would rather people ask her questions and treat her the same way as before she became ill. “I know I’m dying. Just be normal around me. Don’t treat me like a delicate flower.”  

As for her advice about life, Sharon says she wishes she hadn’t always played it so safe. “I worked in the card division of a major bank for 15 years before I was boarded because of my chemo treatments.” She believes we should all search for what it is we really want to do in life. “Go out there and find what you truly love to do. It’s not always about the paycheque – just give it a try!”

Ultimately, it’s her family she’s most proud of: “My marriage, my son, my daughter-in-law, my grandchildren; I feel lucky to have had it all.”

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