When Melanie Kennerley took on the role of Community Champion at the Z service stations she owns with her husband in South Auckland at the end of 2016, Totara Hospice was just one of several charities their business supported. While Melanie knew Hospice did good work, she had never had anything to do with them. Then that changed suddenly.
Melanie had been organising the Good in the Hood programme at their stations (in which Z customers vote for local charities to receive a cash donation) and monthly community volunteering by their Z staff. After some contact with Totara Hospice Sponsorship Manager, Mel Seal, she was starting to get more of an understanding of Hospice’s work. Then, Melanie and her family were floored by news that her brother-in-law Neville, who lived in Arizona, had pancreatic cancer.
It was especially difficult as he was first diagnosed while already caring for his wife, who had terminal lung cancer. She died over Christmas of 2016, and the next month Neville was told he had just weeks left to live. With no other family in the US, he decided to come home to New Zealand, which he had left 40 years earlier as a teenager on a tennis scholarship.
Melanie says having her terminally ill brother-in-law arrive to live with them was a huge change for everyone. “For me, it was like ‘I want to do this. But what do I do? I’m going to have someone with end-stage pancreatic cancer arriving on the doorstep, who’s become a diabetic, who’s been given just weeks to live and we have to work out how to look after him. How do I even get him into the system?’ It was this complete unknown.”
She was given the name of a palliative oncologist who worked with Totara Hospice and could answer some of her early questions. As soon as her husband Wayne arrived in Auckland with Neville, Melanie took her brother-in-law to a doctor and then Middlemore Hospital referred him to Totara Hospice.
He stayed in the Inpatient Unit early on while they established his pain management and he then returned home to live with the Kennerleys and their children, while the community nurses visited 2-3 times a week. “I don’t know how you would do it without the support of somebody like the Hospice,” says Melanie. She says Neville struggled to understand why there was so much support available as it was very different from his experience in the States, where he had looked after his wife by himself at home until the she died.
Neville lived just nine weeks after arriving in New Zealand, and while his time with his family was short, Melanie says it was the help of Totara Hospice that made it the best it could be, given the circumstances. From the support of the nurse home visits, to family card tournaments in the Hospice dining room, and the spacious patient rooms designed for family members to spend time with loved ones; even to stay over, as the Kennerleys did with Neville just before he died in March last year.
“I’d always heard so many great things about Totara Hospice,” reflects Melanie, “but until you go through it I don’t think you have any appreciation of how much they do and the impact it has on the family that’s looking after somebody.”
Neville’s estate made a substantial donation to Totara Hospice and Melanie and Wayne continue to support it through Good in the Hood, and their gift hamper business Paddock to Pantry. Melanie and some of the station staff helped at this year’s Sunrise Walk and at the Ladies’ Lunch, and at other times their staff help to service the nurses’ cars or wherever Totara Hospice needs assistance. Melanie also donates goods for Hospice fundraising.
“When I started the role at Z I hadn’t been to Totara Hospice and hadn’t had anything to do with them and then lo and behold we had this huge life-changing event together. But once you do go through it you certainly understand that they’re amazing.”
If you would like to help Make Hospice Happen with a donation of funds or goods for fundraising, please contact Melinda on 09 640 0208.