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  • Writer's pictureRachael Fulton

Living The End of Life As Best They Can: Marie Curie Hospice

"Laughter is the best tonic in the world. Without it what would you do?" says James Coyle, sipping a cup of tea.

Nestled side-by-side in comfy chairs and enveloped by the smell of home baking, a group of friends crack jokes and laugh amongst themselves.

They bicker over which Agnes is 'Wee Agnes' and which one is 'Big', discuss what their relatives are up to and what they're going to have for their lunch.

The atmosphere is upbeat and happy, not unlike any other coffee morning or gathering between friends. The only differences are the building this meet-up takes place in, and the circumstances under which these people met.

"We're all dying, but we've still got some life left in us," smiles Caroline Scally, 55.
"We're making the most of what we've got."

The friends are visitors to Marie Curie Cancer Care Hospice on Balornock Road, and join many men and women of different ages who use the centre's palliative care services.

Although diagnosed with terminal illnesses ranging from cancers to heart and lung disease, they are determined to make the time they have left as enjoyable as possible.

They come to the hospice to meet their friends for a chat, share their problems and openly discuss the historical taboo of dying.

The hospice focuses on helping people live the ends of their lives to the full, providing support and help to those coming to terms with their prognosis and ensuring they are as comfortable as possible towards the end of their days.

Although patients are able to stay overnight at the hospice if necessary, many visitors come to take advantage of the support groups and activities available at the centre.

Complementary therapies, exercise classes and befriending programmes all lift the spirits of those coping with the end of their lives.

"I was dumbstruck at my diagnosis - they asked me if I wanted anything when I was at the hospital, but they couldn't even give me a counsellor," says Caroline, who was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 2011.

"Then they got in touch with this mob and I was brought here.

"I can't say anything else about the hospice except that it's brilliant. They understand, they have a laugh with you like you've known them for 20 odd years and you can ask them anything.

"We're like a family - like the Brady Bunch!" she adds, triggering a cackle of laughter from the group.

The Marie Curie Cancer Care hospice at Balornock Road is a £20million development that was officially opened in 2011 and is one of nine Marie Curie hospices in the UK.

Although commonly mistaken for a cancer-only hospice, 25% of patients at the centre suffer from non-cancer related illnesses that require continual palliative care and symptom control.

The hospice serves a huge catchment area, including Lennoxtown, Bailleston, Maryhill, Easterhouse, Ridrie and Parkhead.

With comfortable rooms and panoramic views of the distant slopes of the Campsie Fells, it's unsurprising that the group of friends are relaxed and unafraid about spending time in the hospice, and that many of their pre-conceptions of hospice care being about 'going in and never coming out' are shattered by the homely atmosphere of the centre.

"It's a beautiful place with beautiful grounds," says 75-year-old Isa Clark, who has emphysema.

"I was worried about coming in the beginning, but it's great.

"My daughter is my carer. She doesn't keep well because she gets anxious, she has so many things to do.

"Me coming here gives her a bit of badly needed respite."

They're not the only group enjoying a morning's rest in the comfort of the hospice. In the dining room, friends Joseph, Wullie and James chat to each other while patiently awaiting their lunch to be served. The three gentleman use the services of the centre to get themselves out of the house and keep them distracted.

"We're all terminal, but coming here breaks the monotony when there's nothing on telly or the weather is bad," says Joseph Goodwin, 78.

"When we're all together here it's a good laugh, it cheers people up. Laughter is the best tonic in the world. Without it what would you do?" adds James.

"In a hospital they can't do anything with you. You ask 'why do you keep me here?' You just want to go home."

The hospice relies heavily on an army of volunteers - from nursing staff, complementary therapists and bereavement support workers, to keep it afloat and maintain a high quality of care for visitors. Although they have a group of paid employees, much of the work is done by people donating their time to ensure the smooth running of the centre.

Despite this bank of workers willing to work for free, it costs a whopping £12,200 per day for the hospice to provide care for its visitors. Marie Curie depend on donations to keep their hospices open, whether this be through regular giving to the charity or hosting events to raise funds and awareness.

"It's not just about the patient, it's about helping the whole family," said Morag MacDonald, who has been a staff nurse at the centre since it opened.

"Patients think they are coming home to die and there's nothing else left for them, but this place takes the pressure off.

"They are not coming just to end their life, they are coming to live the end of their life as best they can."

  • To donate money to Marie Curie Cancer Care or find out more about the Glasgow hospice's services, visit the Marie Curie website.

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