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A role that brings great rewards – Sandeep shares his experience as a palliative care volunteer

My decision to volunteer

What got me started with EPC was I had a very dear friend, who was the same age as me, and in 2017 he died of a brain tumour. I was part of the process that he went through from the time that he discovered it until he died. I continue to meet his wife and kids, and one of his boys is getting married in a few weeks’ time. I’ve been through that journey and I felt like that having gone through it with my friend made me want to rethink what I want to do with my time and my life. I felt the need to do some volunteering as a way of honouring what he didn’t get to do. A friend of mine was a volunteer at EPC and he mentioned that they were looking for volunteers. I’ve found the right place and have been volunteering here for 12 months now.

I feel valued and supported

Without doubt, from the time I first interviewed with Krystal (Volunteer Services Consultant) over the phone and then I met her face-to-face, there was something about her that I just completely connected with. I went through the training and that reinforced my feelings. I have been working for such a long time in the corporate world and never have I been trained as thoroughly as I have been for this role.

I just found that astounding, that an organisation would take that much time, effort and care to look after a volunteer. It just says something about the whole organisation, 

including the way the CEO spoke and everyone I met throughout EPC. It’s a great team. There’s a lot of support that you get in a very practical way. I’ve sought help from time to time, and they are so prompt and efficient, and they get back immediately. I think it’s great.

It is a different relationship with each client

The home support role I work in is enjoyable too. There is a lot of freedom to figure out how best it is that we can help the family that we are with. Overall it is one of those things that I think, “Fantastic, I’m glad I started doing this.”

I’ve had three clients so far. Each one has been completely different, and the diversity of the experience is what I find remarkable – different age, different circumstances, different illness. In all those cases I’ve had to figure out how to help that family at that point in time. Sometimes, the family itself does not know what you can do to help them.

It takes a while to work it out.  With each of them I found a way which was useful, but in different ways. 

So, with the first client, I would take him out for walks, and we would have chats. It was just time away for him from meeting doctors and nurses and family. It was just an opportunity for us to connect as two human beings and discuss footy and other things, which was good for him. I took him to support group sessions which otherwise he would have found too hard to get to. Because I was there his wife was able to do other things.

My second client needed help to do his routine shopping. I would take him around to shops to buy whatever he needed, and we would have a coffee afterward. And then he got very sick and things changed, and I needed to go and visit him in the nursing home that he was in.

The challenge of finding the right balance

The bit that I find most challenging is you don’t know what you’re going to be doing. Initially when you start that new relationship you are quite unsure about how that is going to play out, and how they are going to receive you and how you are going to fit in, and what you are going to do to help. And will you be of any help? You are trying to figure all of that out. That creates its own hurdle and a little bit of anxiety at the start.

The other challenging aspect is that as you build on the relationship, you know it’s finite. You must keep changing and evolving to fit in with the changing situation of a client. That can be quite testing for yourself because you’re seeing your role constantly changing and you’re not sure what you can do week by week. And you don’t know when it’s going to end. It’s also dealing with the suffering and the grief that goes with it and trying to figure out how you give support and at the same time how you manage it yourself, because you do get impacted with these experiences. It’s finding a balance all the time.

My volunteer mentor is fantastic for helping me keep that balance in place. 

We catch up once a month or so for a man to man chat. Talking to someone who is working in the same space as I am is really helpful. He gives me just the right kind of input that I need to deal with whatever is happening at the time.

I find it enervating - its what keeps me involved

I’m at a stage where I want to do things that are more meaningful. I’ve been working in senior executive roles in organisations where you’re in an environment of high levels of ego and a lot of self-promotion. I find this is a completely different environment, where it’s not about you; it’s about the other. It’s not often that you’re in an environment where you’re not thinking about yourself, but about the other person. This is a very unusual experience. It’s like being involved in someone else’s challenging situation. You’re not going through it yourself, but you can be of help. I find that there’s a great sense of gratitude to be able to do something like that, because you learn from it. I find that rewarding. That’s what keeps me involved.

It is enervating and energising. We are dealing with people and families and every situation is different.

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