Gail O’Brien AO is patient advocate and board member at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. A tireless advocate for patients living with cancer and their families, we are often asked about Gail and her role at Lifehouse. This column introduces her perspective and we look forward to sharing more from Gail in our next issue of OpenHouse.
A dear friend, colleague, and most compassionate medical professional, Associate Professor Chris Milross, recently pointed out to me that a cancer centre brings a concentration of grief into one place. Yes, there is grief, which every one of us feels. There is also undying hope, which we generate and give.
At Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, there are people dying, and people living, and sometimes, they’re doing both at the same time.
12 years ago, this place was an idea – the State’s first comprehensive cancer centre. It gathered steam with my husband Chris’s instinctive reaction to use his diagnosis of brain cancer to advocate more fiercely for it.
My role at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse as patient advocate is a way of supporting the vision of patient-centred care and giving people hope.
As I’ve walked these corridors for the last five years, I meet patients young and old. One such patient is Maria; you may have heard of her story on “Humans of Newtown”. A recent transplant in Sydney from the Philippines, she was alone with her husband who often works long hours as a pastry chef. Maria was only diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer after experiencing excruciating pain during her pregnancy. Two days after diagnosis, baby Natalia was born prematurely at 32 weeks so we could gauge the extent of Maria’s cancer and begin treatment.
Maria spent her precious last days at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, bonding with baby Natalia. She passed away peacefully here surrounded by her family, baby Natalia and those who cared for her at Lifehouse. Your generosity is what allows us to provide care for patients like Maria.
It made me so proud to see our community and our army of volunteers rally around to support Maria and her family. From a humidity crib sent to us from Wollongong to donations of baby clothing and items, you gave so much to a family that had so little. No one at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse gave up on them.
It’s like its own little world here – a world of kindness and compassion if you like. Thank you to each and every one of you for the exceptional impact that you create through your support.