PALLIATIVE CARE: Jane Harriss at the John Flynn House at St Andrews Village, ACT, where she has previously supported a patient.
PALLIATIVE CARE: Jane Harriss at the John Flynn House at St Andrews Village, ACT, where she has previously supported a patient. Tracey Johnstone

Jane's palliative volunteering adds quality to her busy life

WHEN the time comes for a person's life to approach its end, Jane Harriss is there voluntarily supporting people who have a life-limiting disease or condition.

She gives them the support they need to ease their journey, not as a carer, but as a palliative care volunteer.

"I see my role just to support the person, just to be there for them, or for their family," Jane said.

"We are not trained counsellors; we are just friendly ears.

"My role is very different."

There are about 140 volunteers in the ACT with the majority of them retirees and aged over 50.

Jane explained that a palliative care volunteer needs good communication skills, to be non-judgemental and most importantly, quickly build a rapport with clients.

"You don't need medical skills because you are surrounded by people who've got all of that," Jane added.

Her 27 years of working in the Federal Government as a media manager and then three years as an aged care advocate has given her a good deal of the skills she is using in this volunteer role.

Jane also received through Palliative Care ACT, role specific training in palliative care issues and self-care.

Having empathy for a client's situation is another key skill for this role.

'You might be meeting people and then losing those people very quickly," she said.

Jane's choice of retirement volunteering came after a losing her mother to ovarian cancer and then starting a charity, Ovcan to support women diagnosed with this disease.

"I always thought after that I would like to volunteer with palliative care, once I retired," the 57-year-old said.

Jane has already met a diverse group of clients across different circumstances and ages.

"A person might still be at home and right at the very end of life and their carer or family member needs a break, so I might go and sit in with them for a while.

"Another time I went to an aged care facility where there was a woman who had no family and she was in the process of dying."

For that client Jane and another volunteer sat beside the woman holding her hand so that she didn't die on her own.

One client she only visited twice before she died.

"Her intellectual capacity was still there and she wanted to chat about current affairs, but she couldn't get that in the nursing home, so I went in and chatted with her for about two hours.

"I have one client now; she had a massive stroke when she was in her early 60s and the chances are, given what happened to her, she will have another stroke sooner or later.

"She is quite well at the moment, but she can't live on her own.

"She's in a residential aged care facility and still in her early 60s, so once a fortnight I take her out in her wheelchair.

"This morning we went to the movies as she loves bright, colourful movies, so we went to Beauty and the Beast.

"I might be with her for many, many years.

"I am just developing relationships with these people and it might only be for a couple of weeks, or it might be for a few years.

"You know they will eventually die, but you are glad to have known them while you could," she added.

Jane said that with end of life issues people will sometimes talk to a volunteer about concerns they have which they feel they can't talk to their family members about.

"It's about listening to what they want to say and validating what they say.

Between her palliative care role, managing the Ovcan charity and also supporting victims of crimes while they go through court hearings, Jane remains an extraordinarily positive person.

"As long as I know I have made a difference, however small it is, it's actually really fulfilling.

"The more you give to the community, the better quality of life you will have," Jane said.

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