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Wally Kewley (left) and Tarja Abbott (right) shortly before Wally passed away in March. Picture: Supplied/Silverchain

National Palliative Care Week: Volunteer support integral for quality care

Last year in February, Wally Kewley and his wife Jackie were making plans for their next adventure to Vietnam.

However, their plans were halted and lives turned upside down when Mr Kewley was diagnosed with brain cancer, needing urgent surgery.

Two months later, he was placed on a home-based palliative care plan with Silverchain, which was quick also to offer volunteer care as additional support for the couple.

The couple was paired with volunteer Tarja Abbott, who started volunteering after the pandemic hit in 2020 to give back to the community during her retirement.

When Silverchain first offered volunteer care to Mrs Kewley as a way to give her a break, she wasn't sure she would need it.

"But after Tarja’s first visit, I quickly realised what a huge difference that little bit of extra care made for me and Wally," she said.

"Once a fortnight, I used the time for all sorts of things, whether it’s going to the hairdresser, running errands or catching up with friends.

"I’ve really loved having the service provided to us."

Unfortunately, Mr Kewley died in March this year, but he shared how much he enjoyed the extra company and giving his wife much-deserved "me-time".

"Tarja and I will have a coffee and chat about different things or just enjoy watching a movie," he said.

"She tells me interesting things about her home in Finland, which is one of the countries we visited during a Baltic cruise."

This week is National Palliative Care Week – a week to showcase the support and work of palliative care nurses, doctors, allied health workers, carers and volunteers.

In 2021, nearly 60,000 people received palliative care through Australia's 177 palliative care services.

Two in three cases had been diagnosed with cancer.

Three in four patients died within 30 days, with 62 per cent in less than two weeks.

Between 2020-21, roughly 4500 people living in residential facilities needed palliative care, representing nearly two per cent of Australians in aged care.

Volunteers like Tarja are an important part of palliative care. They provide social support and companionship, do the food shopping, take clients on outings, and provide respite for carers.

Silverchain's volunteer resources manager Lily Meszaros said volunteers get the chance to make a significant difference to the lives of clients and their families.

"Volunteers such as Tarja can make such a valuable contribution to the quality of life for people living with advanced, progressive or life-limiting illness as well as providing respite for their carers," Ms Meszaros said.

"Sometimes it can just be as simple as sitting down for a chat over a cup of tea, or a coffee and a wagon wheel, which was Wally’s favourite."

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