UNSUNG HERO: Helen Harvie

WHEN Helen Harvie’s late father was first diagnosed with cancer, a lot of his friends dropped by to see him.

As his illness progressed, they phoned instead.

Then when his condition worsened, the phone calls dropped off too.

‘‘Consequently he was telling me one day that he missed touch, he missed shaking somebody’s hand and talking to them,’’ Mrs Harvie, of Valentine, said.

So when she retired from teaching, Mrs Harvie decided to do a palliative care education course and a massage therapy course in the hope she might be able to offer other cancer patients some relief.

‘‘I loved it so much I went on to do the full remedial massage course,’’ she said.

‘‘I met other massage therapists who also decided to join our group – Westlakes Palliative Care Group.

‘‘We now have five qualified massage therapists in our voluntary group.’’

The Westlakes Palliative Care Group – also known as Caring Hands – offers companionship and friendship, practical support, hospital visits and bereavement support, as well as therapeutic massage.

The not-for-profit group services the Lake Macquarie City Council area and runs an annual education course on palliative care. The next course begins on March 4.

‘‘I am not a domestic goddess, let me tell you,’’ Mrs Harvie laughed.

‘‘I was nearing the end of my school-teaching career. I can’t knit or sew or do any of those lovely things. 

‘‘This is something I thought I could manage without getting into too much strife.’’

Caring Hands’s mission is to help those with life-threatening illnesses live as fully as possible by offering practical support, care and friendship.

‘‘Our volunteers will all say they get more out of this than what they give,’’ she said.

‘‘That’s not the reason you do it, mind you, but you do get so much reward from just feeling like you’ve been able to lessen someone’s pain or let someone laugh – bringing a little bit of normality to their time.

‘‘Many of our clients have their disease or illness with them all day every day, and their carers and family are with it all the time too.

‘‘And really, some people just want to get some normality back and have a laugh as though they were a normal healthy person again.

‘‘When you tell people you massage people with life-threatening illnesses they often say it must be terribly depressing. Well, no, it isn’t.

‘‘It can be sad in many ways, but while you’re with someone it’s not.

‘‘I tend to tell a few jokes and have a laugh with them.’’

Mrs Harvie is also a school chaplain two days a week, and has previously run a Seasons for Growth course at her school to help children cope with grief and loss.

She has been volunteering for Westlakes Palliative Care Group for about 17 years.

‘‘We had a brilliant group of ladies start this group. Many have now retired, some have passed away,’’ she said.

‘‘Apart from being important to the clients we serve, it’s an important service for the carers.

‘‘Being with someone 24 hours a day, attending to their every need ... it’s good just to let them get out and get a haircut or go to the movies while we look after the client for a little while.

‘‘It benefits that person to allow them to continue their commitment, rather than put their loved ones into a hospital.

‘‘It also gives the people who are suffering the chance to stay at home and die at home if they wish.’’

Westlakes Palliative Care Group meets monthly.

If you would like to find out more about volunteering, or completing the 2013 palliative care education course, contact 49504072.

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