'I want to tell people that there is nothing to be afraid of about going to a hospice'
Irish Lives:Maureen MacMahon still goes out with the girls from work and has a good time
“I thought hospices were only for people who were dying,” says Maureen MacMahon, from Clondalkin in Dublin. She is sitting laughing in the day centre at Our Lady’s Hospice Harold’s Cross, Dublin, wondering whether she will get her nails done today or not.
Three years ago, her homecare help team arranged for someone from the hospice to visit her. “I told my sister, ‘get rid of them from the door. I’m not dying. Let them go out to people who need them’. But my sister said, ‘we should see what they have to say’.”
MacMahon has breast cancer and bone cancer. She was working as a special needs assistant when diagnosed. She loved the job. “The last day I worked was November 22nd, 2009. The biggest shock about my diagnosis was knowing I would never be able to work again. But I’m a person who believes in getting on with things. I still go out with the girls from work and we still have a great time every time.”
Because the bone cancer is in her legs, she uses a wheelchair to prevent any damage from a possible fall. “Don’t think I don’t have a brain because I’m in a wheelchair!”
She also uses a breathing apparatus. She has been attending the hospice day centre one day a week for almost three years now. Her sister encouraged her to make the first visit.
“Before I came the first day, I was saying if it’s people sitting around crying and talking about being sick, I can’t deal with it. I’m not sick. I have a condition,” she states firmly.
The first thing that happened when MacMahon came was morning tea with the other day centre visitors in a bright sunny room where the communal chatter was of anything except illness.
This happens every day.
“Then I had the most beautiful massage in my back and shoulders. It was so soothing. If you wanted to talk to counsellors, you could. If you want to do physio, you could. They gave me the choice. I can still make choices about my life when I’m here and that’s what I like.”
She decided to return.
“When I came here first, I was coming to please other people. Now I come to please myself. I look forward to coming on a Wednesday. It’s my day out. My daughter is my carer and so it is her day off too.”
Every Wednesday, MacMahon is picked up at her home by one of the 200 volunteers who work for Our Lady’s. She is driven to Harold’s Cross and then home again in the afternoon. It means that her daughter, Orla, who is her carer and who gave up her job to look after her mother, does not have to worry about the transport. It also means Orla has some additional time to herself on that day.
“The volunteers allow us to provide services we couldn’t afford otherwise,” says Our Lady’s chief executive Mo Flynn.
There are 228 beds at the hospice. Some are for support and respite, some for rehabilitation and some are residential.
Our Lady’s also provides 11,000 homecare visits a year. Since 2008, there has been a 22 per cent reduction in funding from the HSE and a 20 per cent increase in the number of people using the services.
“We are still able to provide the same level of services,” says Flynn. The shortfall in Government funding is made good by the hospice’s fundraising, primarily through their December Light up a Life campaign, which will be launched by President Higgins tomorrow.
The tree at Harold’s Cross has 5,000 lights, but there is no limit to the number of lights people can create online in memory of their deceased relatives and friends. Last year, the public contributed €443,000 to the campaign. This year, it is hoped €450,000 can be raised.
It is this extra cash that pays for items such as petrol for volunteers who drive MacMahon and others from their homes to the hospice and back once a week.
“I want to tell people that there is nothing to be afraid of about going to a hospice,” says MacMahon, when asked what she would like to say to people who have no experience of a hospice.
“The choice is yours whether you want to go or not. Here, I am always asked, ‘would you like’ to do whatever it is. That makes all the difference.”
Ten people a day attend the day centre at Our Lady’s, three days a week. “This day service is invaluable,” says MacMahon. “Why would you want to sit at home alone . . . when you can come here and have a lovely day and be with other people?”
Light up a Life, olh.ie