THE sixth annual Palliative Care Week coordinated by All Ireland Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care (AIIHPC) is taking place this week (September 8-14). The week aims to raise awareness of the difference palliative care can make to people with a life-limiting illness or condition, to carers and to families throughout the island of Ireland.
This year’s theme is ‘Palliative Care: Surrounding You With Support’, focusing on how people with palliative care needs are being supported in the community. This can involve support from primary care (such as GPs, public health nurses, district nurses), from hospices, hospitals, nursing homes, and wider community supports beyond formal health and social care services. Support can be provided for weeks, months and years.
Ballymena couple Rosemary and Tony O’Mullan have participated in this year’s campaign to raise awareness of how the palliative care he receives, delivered by the Marie Curie Community nursing team, has helped Tony and his family to manage his cancer diagnosis and receive care in his own home.
Tony comes from a farming family based in Dunloy, County Antrim and was a full-time farmer until his diagnosis in 2017. He and his brother Robin left school at 15 and started farming with their father operating a beef herd, along with sheep and hens.
When Tony and Rosemary married in 1981, they ran their own farm raising and selling calves and later built a turkey house to rear turkeys on behalf of Dreen Farms. Rosemary also worked for Ulster Bank and both she and Tony enjoyed an active lifestyle, even showing Blackface sheep at Balmoral Show a number of times for a cousin.
The farm is still operational with both of Tony and Rosemary’s sons involved on a part-time basis (they also have a daughter, Maura), but has been reduced to one flock of 270 Cheviot sheep.
Tony attended his GP when he didn’t feel well enough to attend a family dinner and following extensive tests was diagnosed with two different types of cancer. He explains: “It was a very mixed up sort of a diagnosis. There were two different complaints. There was myeloma (cancer of the plasma cells), a treatable type of cancer. So when I heard I had cancer, well not the greatest thing in the world. But then when I heard that it was treatable, ah well, we’ll have a go.
“And here I am, living when I should be somewhere else.”
Following Tony’s initial treatment, Rosemary explained how invaluable the palliative care he received from the Marie Curie community nursing team was.
She said: “The (chemotherapy) was very, very severe on him and then he got home he wasn’t able to climb stairs or anything. So he got the hospital bed and Marie Curie girls stepped in immediately. I mean, they were just amazing.”
When he became very ill in June 2018, (he was also diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and nephrotic syndrome) the Marie Curie nurses were on hand again to support Tony and reassure Rosemary.
Anthony says of the Marie Curie Community nurses: “I wouldn’t like to be without them. We live in a fairly northerly part of the country and the weather is not always in our favour, but they always turn up. They wash you, clean you up, they even shave me if I would let them!”
He continued: “If I wasn’t getting the care I’m getting I’m not so sure where I would be. I don’t think I’d be lying here. The family are important too. I can stay at home. Rosemary can stay at home. The whole family is all a unit.”