Cancer is a difficult topic. For many people who are undergoing treatment – and their families – having someone to talk to can help ease the emotional impact.
Last Sunday 4 February was World Cancer Day – created with the aim to raise awareness and education to avoid millions of preventable deaths each year. We wanted to share with you a hidden side of cancer, where cancer patients and their families find support and solace throughout their journey. This is hospital chaplaincy.
A hospital chaplain is someone who provides comfort and consolation to those who are going through times of uncertainty or despair whilst in hospital. We were able to gain insight into the work of a chaplain from two of CatholicCare’s hospital chaplains, Helen and Gillian.
Photo by Ben White
Helen works primarily with parents of ill children, and also supports hospital staff as part of a peer support group. She ministers in both the Cancer Ward and the Newborn Intensive Care Ward, and spends most of her day visiting patients and family members to alleviate their anxiety, fear and uncertainty during their time in hospital. Helen is also on-call to perform baptisms and blessings for those who are severely ill or who may be going into life-threatening surgery, but she said that the most important part of her ministry is to provide support and to ‘be that listening ear’. Just being there for parents and their children, even after a patient’s journey has ended.
Helen seeks to catch up with returning patients and follow up with parents who have lost their child, but she also noted that she has kept in contact with some families who have had positive hospital outcomes – one such family had a young child with a harsh form of cancer, but the child has since recovered. Helen supports families across the hospital who are from all faith traditions, including families with no faith.
Gillian, also working in pastoral care, currently organises hospital chaplaincy services. In contrast to Helen, Gillian has spent time consoling and supporting children whose parents are severely ill. Gillian has worked with cancer and palliative care patients and their families for many years, and has led a project to develop a memories book which children (or other family members) would complete with their ill loved one. This book has allowed both patients and family members to focus on positive activities while in hospital, and helps alleviate their feelings of distress and uncertainty.
Gillian stated that her role is to ‘ensure that patients are well connected to their faith’ and said that the hospital runs prayer services every day, and facilitates a memorial service four times a year for the families of those who have passed. Additionally, the hospital has a team of 22 Catholic volunteers who provide communion ministry throughout the week, and a group of local priests who attend to on-call duties. Gillian noted that it is important to connect people with their parishes and also equip them with the strategies to continue with their lives after experiencing loss and grief.
Cancer patients are not the only patients that CatholicCare’s hospital chaplains support, but many of those who are in palliative care, and who are in need of pastoral care services, are in there due to cancer.
It is estimated that over 138,000 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and that one in two people will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85 (canceraustralia.gov.au). Cancer is a devastating but preventable disease, so we need to put in our best efforts to reduce the risks and educate those around us.
If you would like to learn about cancer prevention, visit the Cancer Council Australia website
. The Cancer Council also offers other information about cancer such as diagnosis and treatment. Read this article on CatholicCare.