Seeing first-hand the difference that Totara Hospice’s team could make to her palliative care patients was all the inspiration Beachlands GP Dr Rebecca Starr needed to launch a fundraising campaign to support their work.
“I’ve had quite a few palliative care patients over the last few years, so have had a lot to do with Hospice and families of patients who have gone through a difficult time with their loved one dying,” says Rebecca. “It’s quite difficult not to get emotionally involved. You’re not supposed to as a GP, but I kind of do.”
It was last summer that she started to think about how she could raise money and awareness for Totara Hospice and for the Cancer Society and its research work. Rebecca decided that shaving her head would be effective in drawing attention to her cause. She laughs as she recalls that it seemed like the perfect idea at the time. “It was a lot warmer… but by the time I got organised it was the middle of winter!”
Rebecca set up a Givealittle page with the aim of raising a couple of thousand dollars and advertised it locally in Beachlands. “So many people donated – I was really surprised, but also not, I think because it’s one of those things that so many of us are touched by in one way or another that it struck a chord. I also had friends and family overseas who donated as well.”
By the time the shave happened in August, Rebecca had raised just under $9500 for Totara Hospice and the Cancer Society. It took place in the waiting room at the Beachlands Medical Centre. “We had about 60 or 70 people turn up! My lovely local hairdresser agreed to shave it all off for me. She was quite nervous because she’d never done that before
and had a big audience watching her! She did a great job. I was sitting there facing this huge crowd, with no mirror, so I had no idea what I was looking like – all I could do was look at the reflected emotions on their faces. The little girls were looking completely horrified and all the guys who were going bald had big smiles on their faces! It was quite nerve-wracking and then the first thing I did was to feel it – which was quite a shock.”
Rebecca says she was thrilled to be able to raise so much for something that makes such a difference to patients and their families. “I think people are very nervous about the idea of hospice care but once they get it it’s such a relief. The nurses who come in [for home visits] really know what’s available in terms of support and OT [occupational therapy] equipment. Patients who have been struggling and their families who have been struggling to look after them suddenly realise there’s support out there.”
With New Zealand’s ageing population meaning greater demand on palliative care services, Rebecca says it’s important people understand how crucial donations are. “For all this wonderful care and support that they’re providing, they need mad people like me to shave their head occasionally!”