Local volunteers in BELhospice

Today I would like to talk about volunteers in BELhospice, the NGO where I develop my assignment. They are amazing, great people that after their university classes or work duties, take their time to be with the terminally ill cancer patients, to comfort them and improve their quality of life in the latest and hardest period of the disease and patients life.

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to be with the volunteers´ coordinator of BELhospice interviewing some new volunteers. The new potential volunteers told us about why they wanted to join BELhospice as volunteers, their own personal experiences and motivations for becoming a volunteer. After interviewing them BELhospice developed a training course for them, talking about the concept of palliative care for cancer patients, all the aspects involved, the role of the NGO BELhospice, its activities, the emotional status of the terminally ill cancer patients.

Volunteers training 2014-07-31 006

Some parts of the training course were especially impactful for me. Normally we think in the palliative care as part of the medicine that is taking care of physical aspect of the patients (pain relief, symptoms control…), but it is more than that. Palliative care focuses especially in the emotional support and spiritual guidance, and ensures the maintenance of the dignity of the patient. That spiritual/emotional/socio-psychological part of the disease process was unknown for me, and I could see personally how this part is affecting cancer patients in the latest stage of the disease. I remember especially one sentence from one of the films we saw during the volunteers training: “All of us know that we are going to die, but not all are prepared for it”.

I have been also impacted by the family environment. Family members have a huge burden taking care of their loves. And sometimes the conditions and family problems are also an issue. Some patients are completely alone in their fight against the illness and volunteers play a key role supporting them.

The week after the new volunteers training, BELhospice developed its monthly meeting with all the volunteers, the current and the new ones. In these meeting they make an update of the patients situation, how they are progressing, how they feel, and how to deal with difficult situations like when the patient gets angry, starts to cry, screams, speaks about death,… really tough situations that are not easy to address, especially with these patients that are close to die. I really admire the job of the volunteers who work directly with patients.

Volunteers meeting

Sometimes volunteers are having even more confidence with patients than the medical team, because when patients are with them, they forget about the illness for a while and just enjoy time in their company.

I had also the opportunity to go out with the medical team to see patients and to face personally that emotional part of the palliative care. I realized how important is to treat it. Patients, in this late stage of the disease, feel that they are losing dignity, they become dependent from family members, they have mood changes, they become more religious, they get depressed, angry and anxious. They feel alone in this journey and they are afraid of dying. BELhospice services and volunteers´work, help patients to relieve their pain and suffering in the final stages.