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Aged care support worker Jacqueline Griffiths and care recipient, nurse Carmen Morris. Picture: Supplied.

‘On the same page’: home care worker and recipient share story

Perth-based aged care support home care worker Jacqueline and former nurse Carmen share a special bond.

Every Thursday and Friday morning, Jacqueline comes over to help 84-year-old Carmen, who was diagnosed with lung cancer, with her daily tasks.

While they only know each other since last August they have forged a close friendship based on similar interests such as gardening and healthy foods.

"We have a really strong bond – I like my other clients too, but more so with her," Jacqueline told Aged Care Insite.

"We're on the same page – we can talk about anything."

Jacqueline said their similar personalities and background allows them to support each other through individual battles.

After Carmen was diagnosed with cancer, she opted out of chemotherapy and reached for herbal medicine to ease the symptoms.

Every day, an average of 413 Australians are diagnosed with cancer, of which lung cancer is rated the most deadly.

Roughly one in five people living with lung cancer in Australia survive five years after diagnosis.

Aside from the physical impact of cancer, a person often faces considerable psychological challenges, such as changes in their social network, engagement and identity. 

One survey found that 65 per cent of the participants said their friends had cut contact after hearing about the diagnosis.

Loneliness and social isolation are considered painful 'side effects' of living with cancer and are often not talked about.

For Carmen, Jacqueline's regular visits are something she looks forward to.

Jacqueline said that, especially in the beginning, it was hard for Carmen because most of her friends no longer called or tried to see her.

"I told her that people are often scared and don't know what to say to comfort her.

"Some sort of strange thing in their mind that they might even catch it.

"But I talk to her about dying and how she feels – and I can ask her things too."

67-year-old Jacqueline moved from the United Kingdom to Australia in 1986 to work at Perth Home Care, then called Aviva.

After a few years, she accepted a corporate role in the city, where she stayed for ten years.

But her passion for people pulled her back to the care sector.

As a child, Jacqueline said she always wanted to help others. 

She recalled her neighbour, an older woman, who she often visited 'just to keep her company.'

"It was always in my nature," Jacqueline said.

"I've always felt the happiest doing that.

"You're doing something for somebody important to them."

Jacqueline took a break from her job a few years ago to become a full-time carer for her mother, who is living with Alzheimer's. 

It's estimated that over 400,000 Australians are currently living with a form of dementia.

Alzheimer's, a type of dementia, is characterised by a decline in cognitive functioning and memory due to the degeneration of brain cells.

People living with Alzheimer's tend to have issues performing day-to-day tasks and may forget important dates, names and the purpose of everyday items.

Jacqueline said that while her mother's disease progresses rapidly, she still remembers her name and recognises her face.

"Caring for my mother gave me an even bigger understanding of how difficult it can be to look after a loved one," she said.

"It was very close, and it's so different when it's a family member as to being somebody you don't know."

After three years, Jacqueline moved her mother into residential care to share the load – even though she'd liked to do more.

While she now works part-time for myHomecare Group's Enrich Living Services, her mother's care still takes up a lot of her time.

She often drives her mother to medical appointments and hospital visits and sits with her during the meetings, so she feels safe.

"It's just that I hate getting so tired," Jacqueline said.

"I wish I could do more, but I know I can't."

When Jacqueline met Carmen last year, she enjoyed their conversations that ranged from everyday life to death and dying.

Carmen describes herself as an 'old nurse' who has worked all over the world.

"Her nursing mentality still shines through in her personality," Jacqueline laughed.

"We'd be in the supermarket, and Carmen keeps rushing, and I would say, 'what's the rush? We have all the time in the world!'

Carmen, out of breath, would respond that nurses were always in a hurry to get things done.

"She's very regimented like that," Jacqueline said. "And that's fine by me – it might cut some people off, but I just help her try to relax."

Last week, Carmen told Jacqueline that she wouldn't know what to do if someone else came and made her bed.

Jacqueline also helps Carmen in the garden, putting eggshells in the soil to protect the plants from snails.

"Carmen is very particular about how you do things," she said.

"But we're similar in that too because I'd like her to tell me if I was doing something wrong."

Although Jacqueline is past retirement age, she said she'll likely 'stay a bit longer' to help Carmen.

"It's just that I feel that I'll wait until Carmen's past.

"She could go another couple of years, maybe, and I just like to be there for her until the end."

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