As a spiritual carer at Peter Mac, Heather provides spiritual and emotional support for patients, families, carers and staff to reflect on and explore life issues affected by cancer.

What do you love about working in the Spiritual Care team at Peter Mac?

I’ve been with Peter Mac for ten years, it’s the right fit for me and I love it. I think my role fits me really well, there's a sense of coming home to who I was made to be.  It's an incredible privilege connecting with people and travelling with them - sometimes for a week, sometimes for years. I actually caught up with a patient this week who I met in my first year at Peter Mac, so there are some really long term patients that I still see and others that I may see only once.

How can the Spiritual Care team help a patient and their family through the cancer journey?

Spirituality is about what brings someone purpose, meaning and a sense of belonging. Often when someone is diagnosed with cancer they experience a sense of disconnection from their sense of who they are or how they function in life. Primarily the way we (Spiritual Care team) function is through deep active listening and helping people in some way reconnect or find some form of reconciliation with what's happening to them through this process. Sometimes it's religious or faith based but the majority of our conversations are not - it can be anything from a friendly face through to listening to the patient about anxiety, fear and uncertainty.

A diagnosis of cancer can lead to an exploration of spirituality and what things are sustaining. We offer meditation - there are four sessions every week (both in the Reflection Space and Wellbeing Centre) - and we have now got it on the screens in the rooms so people can meditate at their bedside.

How important is spiritual care following a cancer diagnosis?

It's crucial. Everyone responds differently to a diagnosis of cancer, but those who are stoic and deny the emotions don't do nearly as well at coping with the stress. That's the same for family members as well, there are many who feel they have to stay strong and firm but it’s important that they know it’s okay to express the emotions they’re feeling. I happened to see the partner of a patient outside the lifts the other day and I stopped to ask how things were going. I could hear the pain in her voice that she had never really expressed, so naming it as grief helped her put it into perspective. It was important for her to acknowledge that grief was the reason she was struggling to get out of bed in the morning. A lot of our language is around providing what we call ‘hospitable space’ to enable an arena where patients and families can be real with what's happening for them.

What does the Spiritual Care department offer?

The spiritual care department provides support 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. We are one of the few departments (outside of medical) who are on call and we take it in turns to be available overnight. We offer support to patients, families and staff from diagnosis right through to intensive assistance for the patient and the family around end of life care. We often find ourselves when we're with a patient - especially if someone is highly anxious - just doing a really simple breathing exercise that helps bring calmness to what could be one of the most stressful moments of their life.

If a person is religious, what spiritual guidance can Peter Mac offer?

We have a list of visiting religious chaplains from the community we can call to offer specific support for patients, including different Christian denominations, Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu representatives. We also have a regular Catholic priest who comes in every Thursday to provide sacramental communion and prayers for patients who have registered as Catholic on their admission.

What’s on in the Spiritual Centre?

A time for reflection is held in the Reflection Space every weekday morning from 9:00 to 9:15 am and meditation sessions are held in the Reflection Space on Mondays and Thursdays 11:00 to 11:30am, and in the Wellbeing Centre on these days from 3:00 to 3:30pm. Apart from that it’s an open space for anyone to use. Sometimes I’ll come in and people will be asleep or just quietly sitting. We even had a wedding in here on Easter Sunday for one of the inpatients. We had more people in here than we've ever had before, it was a great day for them.

For more information or to get in contact with the Spiritual Care team visit the Spiritual Care at Peter Mac webpage.