Years of sorrow

Years of sorrow, loneliness and pain are hidden somewhere deep in her soul. Not hidden but reflected in her blue eyes, is the compassion and unconditional love this 90-year old has for the world and for those “worse off than her”.

Edith Cavell Brown, a day-care patient of Stepping Stone Hospice & Care Services in New Market Park, lives in a room in South Hills no bigger than possibly six square metres on nothing more than a state pension and some money she makes on selling roses at a local Steers outlet. She was brought to Hospice by a group of ladies from the NG Church, Alberton South, who heard of her breast cancer diagnosis. Edith refused treatment at the Helen Joseph Hospital, because she didn’t want to be separated from her five cats and the children in the area who turn to her when they are hungry.

“It broke our hearts when we realized to what extent the cancer has progressed and the pain this dear lady must have suffered due to non-treatment,” says Sister Sheryl Newman, palliative care nursing sister at Stepping Stone Hospice.

“We immediately started with pain and symptom control and together with the assistance of medical practitioners we now have these symptoms under control and the wound cleaned up and cleared of infection.”

Edith is quick to tell you that she was named after Edith Louisa Cavell, a British nurse who is celebrated for saving lives of soldiers from both sides without distinction during World War 1. For this Edith Louisa Cavell was arrested, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Days before her sentencing and execution, she was quoted as saying “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved”.

Our Edith’s parents must have instinctively known the path their daughter was going to follow when choosing her name. “I can never not feed a hungry child,” she exclaims when asked why she continues with selling her roses to make a bit of money, despite her being so desperately ill. Edith can be seen most evenings at the food outlet till closing time. “I go to the flower market in the mornings, prepare the roses and then set off to sell them,” she explains.

Staff and volunteers at Stepping Stone Hospice were quick to realize that this very task of Edith reaching out to hungry children in her neighbourhood, is what keeps her going and her reason for getting up in the morning.

“We now collect food items and make up food parcels for Edith to distribute to these children. We take it to her once a month and she distributes it as she sees fit,” Sister Sheryl explains. “We hope that by us doing this, she will allow herself more time off to rest, especially on days that her little body can take no more,” Sheryl says.

This action on the part of Stepping Stone Hospice & Care Services underlines the philosophy of the founder of the hospice movement, Dame Cicely Saunders, who had this to say: “You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.”

Caption:
Edith Cavell Brown, also known as Tannie Toeks, seen here receiving the food parcels from Kia Bierman, volunteer at Stepping Stone Hospice and Sister Sheryl Newman, palliative care sister at Stepping Stone Hospice.

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