ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 37

Sai hospice where cancer patients find love and care

By Ayesha Inoon

M. Sathyavelu, 62, smiles as he remembers his days as a fisherman riding the rough waves of the Indian Ocean. The deep lines etched on his face speak of many trials, adventures with friends, good times and bad. Today, as a cancer patient, he spends most of his day listening to the radio and reminiscing about old times.

The Sathya Sai Suva Sevana at Hanwella. Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

With no family to care for him and no real home to go to, the Sathya Sai Suva Sevana — a hospice for terminally ill cancer patients — has become his refuge at a time when he needs love and care most.

No one would want to spend their last days in a strange and sterile environment. As much as sick or elderly people need medical attention, so too do they need love, care and kindness. Yet, sometimes, families may find it difficult or even impossible to care for their loved ones. In some cases, such as Sathyavelu's there may be no immediate family to take over this care.

At the Sathya Sai Suva Sevana, such care and comfort is given to deserving patients free of charge. Established in 2002 by the Sathya Sai Seva Organisation, Sri Lanka, the hospice aims to provide palliative treatment and special care to patients irrespective of their race or religion. Funded by voluntary donations, it has accommodation for up to 50 patients — 30 females and 20 males.

Amidst tranquil surroundings, the hospice is located in Hanwella on more than three acres of land, about 20 kilometres from the National Cancer Institute at Maharagama. Patients who need treatment at the hospital are taken there regularly, accompanied by staff from the hospice.

A consultant physician visits the hopice four times a week, and is always on call for emergencies. Vegetarian meals are served in the spacious canteen. Many patients spend their time watching television, listening to the radio, reading newspapers or in conversation. Visitors are few and rare.

"My only daughter and son-in-law died recently. My five grandchildren are all married and too busy to come here often," says Asilin Nona, with tears in her eyes. In her seventies, and barely able to walk, she depends on the staff at the hospice for all her needs.

"The hospice is based on a philosophy of love," says Jagath Gunasekera, chairman of the Management Committee, explaining that the staff are trained in this philosophy to offer strength and support to patients. Apart from physical care, they also try to give peace of mind, a sense of belonging and dignity which extends beyond this life — with the hospice performing the last rites when there is no one to claim the body.

Many patients find solace and spiritual strength from the Sarva Dharma shrine — a small temple at the entrance to the hospice.
Every evening the patients gather here for prayer and meditation. Those who wish are sometimes taken to other places of worship such as churches or mosques.

"We don't talk about the sickness, as much as possible. We try to give them a normal life," J. Anusha, an official at the hospice, says adding that the relationship between the staff and patients is almost like a family bond.

For 70-year-old Ramanathan, the hospice has been his home for many months. Waking up at 2 a.m., he bathes, and begins his daily routine, picking flowers for the shrine, sweeping the garden, and helping with other chores in the kitchen. "It makes me happy. I feel that I am a part of this place," he says.

Providing a loving environment and care for those who may otherwise find themselves alone and destitute in the last days of their lives, the Sathya Sai Suva Sevana is an affirmation of the compassion that human beings can have for each other.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.