Volunteer Story: Glenyse’s experience during COVID-19

Volunteer Story: Glenyse’s experience during COVID-19

Glenyse Duck is a biography volunteer who works with PCSE clients in the ‘Sharing My Story’ program. She is an exemplary communicator, going above and beyond to make sure clients feel safe and supported as they create their personal biography. This reflection outlines her experiences as a volunteer during the pandemic as she transitioned her services online.

“My biggest struggle during COVID-19 was figuring out how to remain connected with my “Sharing My Story” clients, as well as enabling new clients to join the program. Transitioning to new software such as “Zoom” and “FaceTime” required not only myself but the client to familiarise themselves with, download successfully and then use the programs. Explaining this to a client who is not confident with technology was challenging.

One client and I ‘FaceTimed’ weekly for about an hour, dependant on her energy levels. She told her story while I dictated it and then typed it into a document later. Another client and I connected using his landline speakerphone weekly as he was elderly, deaf and not able to use technology.

Communicating with my clients, especially new ones, only by phone was very restricting so I wrote a short profile about myself and my experience as a volunteer. This helped me to connect with clients and give them confidence that their story would still be completed in a confidential and timely way. I included a recent photo of myself to give a visual connection.

I sent most information by email, including a weekly draft of their story thus far for each client to amend and return for the following week’s session. Sometimes I used text messages and phone calls to relay messages, receive change of dates, etc. from a client. I also used the internet to research maps, information and photographs of places that couldn’t be obtained directly from a client. For example, an old, fragile photo that usually I would scan whilst visiting in the home. Emailing enabled clients to send me additions to their story in their own time, when they feel up to it.

I had two potential new clients that were very relieved to know that they could still tell their story using technology through these challenging times. When the wife of my client successfully connected Zoom not only was she pleased with herself but her husband, my client, was very impressed with her and really happy that we could all still see each other. He was worried that his almost completed story would not be finished. He had limited English, relying on his wife to interpret his story correctly.

Using FaceTime to communicate with clients gave us a visual connection, allowing them the confidence to share personal information and receive empathy from me, a visually powerful tool. It’s much harder to relay this reassurance using words only by phone. However, we all still shared laughter and tears no matter the medium.

My biggest challenge using these modes of communication has been developing the initial trust and rapport with clients participating in the Sharing My Story Program. At first, I thought how could we even continue to offer this program to clients with a life- limiting illness, to leave their written story for family and friends? Not being able to physically meet and share in this unique role was very challenging. Using these new ways to connect, however difficult at first, has been a very useful tool. I can see it being of use in the future for clients who have heavy demands on their home life. Not having to prepare for yet another visitor, just chatting by phone or by email whenever they feel well enough could be easier, especially once an initial relationship has been developed. In the future I can see these added tools enhancing the Sharing My Story program.

I am rewarded every time I connect and receive gratification from my clients and families, especially once they see their completed story in print. The thought of turning down a client, even in those daunting times, was unthinkable to me. I missed not being able to physically connect initially and then to personally present the completed biography to my client, but the fact I could still provide this service is indescribable. It remains a great honour for me to be part of PCSE’s volunteer program.”

If you would like to learn more about our volunteer program or register your interest please click here.  

Client Story: Penny Haringsma

Client Story: Penny Haringsma

Penny Haringsma was a beautiful wife to her devoted husband Michael and a proud, dedicated and loving mother to her children Zoe and Riley. She beamed with positivity, loved to laugh and valued time with her friends and family above anything. Her ability to embrace hardship with a positive outlook was to be admired, with her determination to live well reflected in the impact she has made on so many people’s lives.

Penny began her journey with PCSE three years ago after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Initially she received nursing care in the home, but after treatments at Monash Health under the care of Dr. Michelle White, her symptoms reduced and she was able to return to many of her favourite activities.

As she recovered our support began to change, transitioning from medical care to monthly visits which provided emotional and psychological support. During this time Penny’s lust for life was as strong as ever, allowing her to get back to the things she loved the most, traveling and spending time with her family.

In 2016 and again in 2018 she travelled around Australia extensively, riding rollercoasters, climbing Katherine Gorge and making it to the top of Kakadu. She didn’t let her illness control her, pushing aside any fear to make wonderful memories with her husband and children. Throughout this time, Penny continued to access support from PCSE.

As well as having the opportunity to travel and explore Penny re-entered the workforce as a ward clerk at St John of God. Her bright and approachable personality was well suited to the role as she loved interacting with everyone who crossed her path.

While Penny focused on living well PCSE continued to provide her with ongoing support. She regularly visited our Early Palliative Care Intervention Clinic (EPIC) to understand and manage her symptoms, embracing our holistic approach to care. In particular, she loved massage therapy and found it a valuable tool to relieve both physical and emotional stress.

Penny’s long-term commitment to our services in combination with her positive outlook ensured she had the highest quality of life possible. Even through the difficult times she held onto her spark as a passionate, warm, thoughtful and fun-loving woman.

As Penny’s condition began to worsen she returned to home care, making the decision to stop progressing with further medical treatment. During this time we ensured she had equipment available to help her from home, as well as regular nursing care and family support.

On the 6th of August 2020, surrounded by her family, Penny died in her place of choice. She is remembered for her strength, resilience and compassion, as well as how happy she was when spending time with family and friends.

Penny’s vibrancy for life, energy and determination to embrace every moment reminds us all to focus on what really matters. She epitomised PCSE’s vision to live well, making every moment of life memorable and full of joy.

We would like to thank Penny’s friends and family for their generous support to our organisation. The outpouring of donations from her community will be used to create a ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ area in our new premises at 80 Victor Crescent, Narre Warren. The space will honour Penny and reflect her legacy to improve wellness for families living with a life-limiting illness. If you would like to learn more about our services or make a donation in memory of Penny please click here.

Client Story: A letter from Lisa Giannopoulos

Client Story: A letter from Lisa Giannopoulos

Lisa Giannopoulos’s husband was a PCSE client who participated in the ‘Sharing My Story’ program. This letter outlines her experiences working with one of our volunteers, Glenyse Duck, to put together his personal biography.

“I am writing regarding volunteer Glenyse Duck who assisted my husband, Con, in completing his life story before he passed from his palliative care diagnosis. Glenyse was amazing, there are no other words for it.

It started in December 2019 when my husband told me he would like to write his biography after talking about the volunteer ‘Sharing My Story’ program with one of the PCSE staff. The only issue was his limited English skills, but Glenyse said she was still happy to assist if I was able to translate.

We started with the home visitations which Con really enjoyed. Glenyse was even happy to come to the hospital at least two or three times when he was admitted. Then the pandemic hit. We were disheartened to hear that the visitations were to stop but relived when Glenyse told us she could still support Con to complete his biography in different ways.

Glenyse called us over the phone, sent emails and text messages but the greatest part was when she was able to help us (over the phone) to download and use Zoom. This was new to us, but she made us feel better when she said she was also learning and that we could all learn together. To be able to see her face again and talk with her gave Con so much joy. It was also a bit of a relief for him to know he could still finish his biography by seeing Glenyse, not just talking over a phone call, as he really enjoyed chatting with her and missed her visits.

Using Zoom was great and Glenyse was very patient and understanding, with no worries as to how much extra time it took to complete Con’s biography. Glenyse went way beyond what we expected. She emailed us regular updates on the progress of the biography instead of providing hard copies, and she checked in with Con and I with text messages and scheduleded phone calls. She always asks about the family and she even sent me a birthday card because I was sad that I could not celebrate with her.

We really missed what the visits gave us but having Glenyse make sure we got the next best options by using Zoom and doing whatever she could to support us has been indescribable. She is a wonderful person and we are so fortunate that she helped Con. We would highly recommend her and the biography program at PCSE, especially with what Glenyse did to make sure Con’s biography was completed through this pandemic. Glenyse is someone I would consider calling a friend even though the biography is finished, and we are forever grateful for what she has done for our family.”

If you would like to make a donation to support our biography volunteer program please click here.

Anne Van Son: 30 years of Service

Anne Van Son: 30 years of Service

This year Anne Van Son celebrates her 30th year as a Palliative Care South East Volunteer. She began her journey in 1990, volunteering with Dandenong Palliative Care Service after seeing the impact their support had on families facing serious illness. Whilst she worked in the office and nurses’ home, the majority of her time was spent visiting clients to provide companionship and carer relief.

“We provided care so that families had somebody there to fall back on. I think it has helped them a lot because there was somebody there that they could trust and who would be there every time they needed support,” she says.

When reflecting on her time as a volunteer Anne is incredibly humble about the impact her three decades of work have had on the community. Instead, she is grateful for the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with clients, something she struggled with after immigrating from Italy.

“When I came to Australia I couldn’t speak English and I was a widow. I had lost my confidence. Starting at PCSE was good for me to meet all sorts of people and feel a part of the community. I always say it was my lifesaver because I have no other family here.

I would recommend it to anybody to become a volunteer, it’s so rewarding and helps you see how lucky you are when you’re healthy,” she says.

We are incredibly grateful for Anne’s contributions and support over the past 30 years. Her positive outlook and appreciation for life is to be admired. We look forward to continuing to work together and acknowledge the significance of her service in helping PCSE become the organisation it is today.

If you would like to learn more about our volunteer program or register your interest please click here

Implementation of Voluntary Assisted Dying

Implementation of Voluntary Assisted Dying

Since June 2019 the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act has been in operation throughout Victoria. This enables eligible patients to request an assisted death and make their own decisions regarding self-determination at the end of life. At Palliative Care South East (PCSE) we have introduced a model of care to enable this choice for our clients, ensuring our community and staff are prepared to respond to requests. Kellie Bradley has played a significant role in this process, chairing the Steering Committee which determined how Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) would be implemented in our palliative care services.

Our position is that the VAD process is very client-driven and the client’s choice.” she says. 

“Our core business is providing Palliative Care, but this is another pathway our patients may wish to choose. If a person is considering VAD and they approach one of our clinicians, we very much support their request. Although we don’t take clients through the whole process, we assist them by sharing relevant resources and establishing partnerships with other services.”

Palliative Care services can be provided in conjunction with the VAD process and clients have provided feedback that the services of PCSE have aligned to ensure the client has the opportunity to fulfil their desired end of life experience.  

As well as ensuring that the implementation of VAD is client driven, PCSE has established clear levels of participation for all employees. This guarantees that staff members only participate in the conversations or processes they are comfortable with before referring to someone else in the team. We fully comply with the intent and elements of the legislation.

I think that we as an organisation have shown great leadership and professionalism in terms of our approach to implement VAD within our service. The Steering Committee did a fantastic job, collaborating and having ongoing conversations to determine our position in the process.”

“As always, our clients come first, and it is about supporting them in their choices the best way we can for the level of participation that we choose. Our approach and model of care is something to be proud of,” she concludes.

The ‘Sharing My Story’ Program

The ‘Sharing My Story’ Program

Pam Glover has been a Palliative Care South East volunteer for the past nine years. She is passionate about providing emotional support, working to establish the “Sharing My Story” program that allows clients to create personal biographies and farewell letters. It is an incredibly rewarding process that fosters reflection as clients look back on the most significant moments and memories of their lives.

“With the Sharing My Story program I see a lot of validation. Often people say ‘oh I haven’t done much in my life’ and ‘no one would want to read my story’, but when it’s finished and they’re talking about it they can’t believe how much they have achieved. I feel very privileged that they’re prepared to tell me their thoughts and share the details of their lives, and that they have trust in me to be able to assist them,” she says.

As well as providing validation for clients the program is extremely beneficial for families. Reading the biographies bring back a lot of positive memories and help them to reflect on the key moments of their loved one’s life.

“Families get a lot of personal support from the various aspects of palliative care, but with ‘Sharing My Story’ I’ve received messages years later from the family of people for whom I did a biography saying how wonderful it is to go back and read. They find a lot of joy and inner peace from the stories.” 

In addition to pioneering the program, Pam has worked to memorialise PCSE’s story through a detailed booklet. The record includes our organisational history and recognises the efforts of people who worked selflessly to contribute to its evolution. She found the process extremely valuable as it highlighted the commitment from staff and volunteers to make our organisation what is today.

“The story is an acknowledgment of the people who put in so much time to help others,” she says.

The record of PCSE will be published and available to the public in late 2020.

If you would like to learn more about our volunteer program or register your interest please click here.  

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