Ease to the ailing
FOR MANY CANCER patients, Olivia Thornhill is an angel of mercy.
She spends her days walking through the wards of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) visiting them, bringing a range of supplies and food, and listening to their deepest concerns.
Thornhill’s role as a Good Samaritan started just over five years ago when she joined the Barbados Cancer Society after having a strong desire to get involved with a charitable organization.
She told the SUNDAY SUN during an interview at the society’s Henry’s Lane, St Michael office last week that that was a decision which has forever changed her outlook on life and caused her to develop what she described as an unbreakable bond with cancer patients.
Patients receiving treatment in the Radiotherapy and Haematology Outpatients Clinic on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays can look forward to light refreshments from Thornhill, who now works under the clients and welfare department of the society.
“People are very grateful for the refreshments to the point that one woman wrote to the society thanking us and saying how grateful she was. People make gracious comments to me and the volunteers.
“People who come from other islands for treatment ask about the cost of the refreshments and when they hear that they are free, they are very happy,” she said, noting that the society spent $12 000 annually providing refreshments for about 800 people.
Right in those clinics, Thornhill’s bond with the patients begin.
“People express to me what they are feeling. They talk about what they are going through. They talk about how many treatments they have had and how many more they have to get. They let you know when the treatment is going well and when they don’t feel sick; when they vomit and whatever other side effects.”
Refreshment time is over and the time has come for this “angel” in her early 40s to visit the wards where many anxiously await her.
Making sure patients are comfortable and providing those who need toiletries, fans, books and other necessities with them are also high on her agenda.
“If they want something different to eat I would get it for them, especially if they are at that stage where I don’t know if this might be their last meal. With the permission of the nurse in charge, I would go and get that meal.
“But that is the easy part,” she added. “There are some people who are too weak to ask for anything and most likely they would have lost their appetite,” she said with a sombre look on her face.
At times Thornhill carries a heavy burden for these patients as well, especially those who are terminally ill. For them, the desire is to talk about their fears for themselves and the families they will be leaving behind.
“There are some who can’t wait to see me and let me know that they have been told that there is nothing else which can be done for them. Then some patients see me and say to me, ‘I want to know the truth’,” she said.
“It is a lot to carry. It is a lot of stuff I know about so many different people. But a patient telling me that they are going to die is worse than when they are dead. I feel that in my heart, more than when they are actually gone.”
Five years ago, Thornhill had no career goals. However, since developing a passion for people living with cancer, she now wants to be of assistance to them in a professional capacity.
Currently working towards her O Levels, a venture being sponsored by the Cancer Society, she is contemplating a career in social work.
“I always want to maintain the relationship with the patients. I want to be the one they can call. I want to be the one they can call and ask . . . to get this for them. I want to be the one that they know they can always count on.”
Thornhill, a Christian, continued: “My personal relationship with God has kept me rounded and has helped me to accept that I will never be able to understand everything.
“I will never be able to understand why things happen the way they happen. Adjusting to them is not always easy. But accepting that there is a higher power who has all the control is the thing to do.”