Palliative care:
Finding solace in friendship

When the term “palliative care” comes to mind it stirs up sombre emotions as it’s so closely linked to severe illness and end-of-life situations. That isn’t necessarily all it’s about, though. The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family by focusing on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of an illness.

This type of work needs a dedicated team of specially trained nurses and therapists who work together to provide support to their patients. For registered nurse, Sr Charon Vosloo, it’s a true call of duty. “I am thankful to have the opportunity to help terminally ill patients deal with their fears on an emotional, spiritual and physical level,” she says. “I love that I can be there for them and their families and help them identify where they’re at within themselves.”

Sr Vosloo fondly remembers 17-year-old Ethan Swartz who was admitted to St. Joseph’s Home in July 2021 with ganglioneuroblastoma (an intermediate tumour that arises from nerve tissues). “I was delighted to meet Ethan for the first time. He was shy at first, but once we got to know each other, he was a very sweet boy,” she explains. “He would always share the little he had with other children in his ward.”

Physiotherapist Vania van Wyk shares the same sentiments. “Ethan had a close friend, Milano Meyers (17), who was in the same ward. They built a very special bond and supported each other daily. Although their diagnoses were different, somehow they could relate to one another and support one another in the process,” she says.

The care provided at St. Joseph’s Home is not limited to paediatric rehabilitation, clinical care and psycho-social support. Palliative care forms a big part in ensuring that the holistic needs of all patients are met.

“When you take an oath as a nurse, you do so by pledging to care for your patients no matter what, but when you’re faced with palliative care cases – especially in children – it’s a tough pill to swallow,” says Sr Vosloo. “I battled to switch off in the beginning, but with years of training and experience, you learn to cope. Professionally, I will go out of my way to be there for my patients and will always act in their best interest and advocate for them,” she explains. “I’ve also learnt to deal with anything through God’s guidance.”

Occupational therapist Kashiefa Creighton also describes her experience with patients in palliative care as something sacred. “When you spend time with patients in palliative care, you can’t help but feel closer to God. When I look at Ethan’s case, what I remember is his compassion for others. You actually learn more from them in these instances. Even when he was in tremendous pain, he would still encourage the other boys in his ward,” Kashiefa says. “Ethan and his friend Milano were very close. When Milano had a hospital visit he would promise to bring ‘something nice’ for Ethan. In this case, it was paaper bites.”

This gesture was true even on Ethan’s final day. Milano was scheduled for a check-up at the hospital and, as usual, would promise to bring along Ethan’s favourite snack. “Milano said to Ethan he will bring some paaper bites, but Ethan must promise to wait for him,” says Sr Vosloo. “When Milano returned, Ethan had already gone home to be with God. He was heartbroken. What consoles me is that at the end of it all, God brought together two boys who were both scared. They faced their fears together and prayed together.”

Milano passed away peacefully a few weeks after Ethan, and now these two friends are reunited in spirit, and perhaps, sharing that delicious packet of paaper bites.