Keurboom Care Home – the inspirational people who live there
Keurboom Care Home is one of 12 such facilities offered by the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) to patients needing accommodation in major cities while they undergo cancer treatment. Like its counterparts countrywide, Keurboom is a home-away-from-home: clean, secure and comfortable with friendly, helpful staff.
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While some patients stay for just a few days, others must undergo several weeks of treatment. Keurboom’s driver, Thomas, takes patients to and from treatment centres. Family members are able to spend quality time with patients, and patients can go home for weekends. Keurboom’s Manager, Sandi van Tonder, says this is a job where you need to be a good listener and be able to empathise with those who come to stay. Sandi has managed the 20-bed unit at Keurboom, in the Johannesburg Belgravia suburb, since late 2008, assisted by Anna the cook, driver Thomas, two cleaners and a gardener.
A recent visit to Keurboom provided an ideal opportunity to chat to some of the residents. As reflected in current cancer trends, all of the women interviewed have breast cancer – one of the most common cancers among South African women. Like most women with breast cancer, they all discovered the lumps in their own breasts, and each woman had undergone a mastectomy. Here at Keurboom they no longer feel alone, and rally round each other to offer support and to talk and share. Both men interviewed have prostate cancer, a common cancer among men in our country.
But if you’re thinking of cancer patients and people waiting to die, you’ll be very mistaken indeed. There were smiles and laughter that day, as jokes were exchanged among these survivors who’d clearly got to know one another – and who opened their circles of friendship a little wider each time to welcome, encourage and include a new patient who came to stay.
The mood was one of real hope, of sharing experiences, and of a newfound camaraderie that linked them all in friendship and encouragement.
Richard, a grandfather of five, said his cancer had come as a great shock, having being discovered seven years ago during a routine visit to his doctor; he’s currently undergoing his regular chemotherapy and radiation treatment. “I feel very welcome at Keurboom, and I can choose to rest, read or socialize whenever I want to.” Victor, 68, feels the same. He comes from Brakpan and will spend six weeks at Keurboom, having daily treatment.
Anna is widowed with two great grandchildren. She had a mastectomy last year at the age of 70, and feels blessed to have a home with her son in Vereeniging. When 67-year old Isabella – also a widow and great-grandmother – discovered that one of her nipples was noticeably misshapen, she ignored it for a long while; it led to her double mastectomy late last year. Having completed their chemotherapy treatment, both women are currently undergoing radiation.
Although Johanna from Dobsonville, Soweto, found it difficult to communicate, she really appreciates being able to stay at Keurboom for the past two weeks. Christina travelled from Rustenburg to spend six weeks at this Care Home. She’s 60 and has had a tough few months since her mastectomy last June, because she had a stroke while in hospital. It has affected her speech and mobility. Fifty-year old Chiona says she feels very positive about her recovery; she’s made good friends here, and feels very welcome: “The staff are wonderful here. Being at Keurboom is very relaxing and good for the soul,” she adds.
Siphiwe is currently Keurboom’s youngest resident at just 28 years old; she had a mastectomy in December. Having two little daughters makes her determined to reach full recovery; they’re staying with her mother while she undergoes a course of radiation. Siphiwe has a very important message for other young women: ‘’Don’t think you can’t get cancer because you are young! Check your breasts often. And, if you find a lump, get treatment immediately.”
Manager Sandi van Tonder is acutely aware of the role that Care Homes play in the lives of so many people who are battling cancer. “The delicious, nourishing meals made by Anna are just one aspect of what Keurboom offers,” she says. “Counselling by trained volunteers is also available to all patients. And they can get together to chat, and spend time in the lovely garden for relaxation. The double rooms are very comfortable. We provide transport to and from the various oncology centres in Johannesburg, so that patients can meet their appointments on time. And it means they don’t have to wait long before getting back here to rest. Most of all, we make sure that patients feel totally at home. Being with others in similar situations brings hope, courage and a sense of camaraderie into their lives.”