A calling for care

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Palliative nurse Rebecca Howie has been working with Beacon of Care for the last five years. She finds meaning in supporting patients (and their families) with serious illness.

Most people are uncomfortable talking about death, but for Rebecca, her work in end-of-life care is deeply rewarding. “People ask me a lot how I do this work, and it is hard. It takes a lot of courage to accompany families during a difficult time” she admits.

Originally from New Zealand, Rebecca found herself drawn to nursing at a young age. At just 19 years old, while studying a commerce degree at university, she started working in a frail care facility. At the facility, she trained to be a care giver, and decided then that she wanted to be a nurse. She began specialising in oncology and loved the relationships she formed with her patients. “You really get to know people when they’re going through treatment” she says.

After completing her oncology training, she moved to Australia where she worked in oncology and bone marrow transplant for two years. She then relocated to London and gained more experience at chemotherapy and haematology day care centres, as well as an HIV clinic.
After meeting her South African husband and starting a family, she moved to Salt Rock. “When I moved here, it was in my heart to work in home-based care, not focusing so much on cancer treatment” she says. “I’ve always been drawn to this kind of work. When people are unwell, they are most comfortable in their home environment. You become an important part of the family’s journey. It’s a privilege being with people at such a significant time in their lives.”

Now, Rebecca works with Beacon of Care, an organisation that provides home-based palliative care to people with life-threatening illnesses on the North Coast. She completed a Certificate in Palliative Nursing in 2020 and last year completed her Diploma in Palliative Medicine through UCT. She says that these courses have helped her immensely in her approach to patient care. “Even though I had nursed for years, I not only needed the knowledge in managing pain and other distressing symptoms, but in these courses, communication is a large component, which has helped me grow in confidence in having conversations with patients and families that are often hard” she says.

Rebecca works as part of a multi-disciplinary team and helps to plan individualised care for patients and their families. “Each person is unique,” she explains. “We care for patients not only physically but spiritually and psychosocially to improve their quality of life. We have doctors, nurses, a physiotherapist, dietician and occupational therapist and a psychologist. It’s very rewarding to work as part of a supportive team and we are always learning so much from each other.”

Self-care is key for Rebecca and her team. “The kind of work we do needs to be done out of a place of rest which means putting routines into place that fill our cup,” she says. To make sure that she can do her best every day, she walks a lot, spends time in her garden and attends Pilates. She also prioritises her own relationships with her husband, children, and friends and attends Linc church. She meets with her team every two weeks to discuss patients’ needs and to plan care, but also to share, debrief and to check in on each other.
Dealing with end-of-life is incredibly difficult for patients and their families, and even though there is so much uncertainty, Rebecca believes that being well-prepared can help considerably in their bereavement. When she meets with families, she talks a lot about what matters to people and what their wishes are for their remaining time. These conversations help patients and their families to process their experiences.

“We want people to understand that we are an extra layer of support,” explains Rebecca. “We don’t take the place of the treating doctor. We see the patient as the head of the team, along with their family, and as a team, we put together a plan of care based on the patient’s and family needs and what kind of support they need.”

A mom of three, Rebecca says that she loves life in South Africa. “It suits my personality,” she laughs. Her and her family love the laid-back, outdoor lifestyle and spend their free time on the beach and in the bush. “There’s so much life here, so much potential” she says. “I’ve found my home.”

Details: www.beaconofcare.co.za; 065 135 5214;
[email protected]; FB: Beacon of Car

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