Spirited journey supports palliative care
10 Mar 2020
Bryan Blakes’ journey into the Himalayas pays tribute to palliative care and its profound ability to improve the quality of people’s end of life experience.
Bryan’s wife, Doreen, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2012. For many months she received care in her home, with community nurses visiting regularly to help manage her symptoms.
Before Doreen sadly passed away in June 2019, her days were made more comfortable thanks to the support of caring staff from Nepean Cancer Care, Nepean Hospital and NBMLHD’s Primary Care and Community Health.
“We were both always happy and content when we were walking,” says Bryan.
The couple have walked the Andes of Peru, snow-capped Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Snowdonia in Wales, the New Zealand Alps, Australia’s Red Centre, and local trips around the Blue Mountains and Nepean River.
Back in 2003, Bryan and Doreen spent seven weeks trekking the Annapurna Range in Nepal, staying in the beautiful city of Pokara, searching for an elusive tiger in the Chitwan National Park.
Their trip culminated in a visit to Mt Everest base camp and Kala Patthar, a 5,640m ‘hill’ with wonderful views of the peak of Mt Everest.
During Doreen’s final moments, her Palliative Care team comforted Bryan, telling him that touch and hearing are often among the last senses to remain just before people pass away.
“Knowing this I held Doreen’s hand and asked ‘Would you like me to take some of your ashes back to Kala Patthar?’” says Bryan.
“She gave my hand a gentle squeeze and I knew that meant yes.”
At a memorial service hosted by the Palliative Care unit that honoured the lives of all the patients who were lost that year, Bryan, a former Commando, formulated his mission.
“It was like a light bulb switching on in my head. What if I could raise money as I climbed Kala Patthar?” Bryan asked himself.
He put the idea forward to his social golf mates, his friends at the Penrith seniors’ computer club and his fellow Commando brothers.
Bryan hoped his friends would each donate $56 for the entire climb, $10 for every 1000m.
Upon his return, Bryan proudly handed a cheque to the Nepean Cancer Care Centre’s Palliative Care team and Lemongrove Community Health Centre for $2600.
Bryan at Kala Patthar beside a small shrine he built for his late wife, Doreen.
He recounted his trek up the mountain where he built a small shrine containing some of Doreen’s personal effects including her driver’s licence, his own red neckerchief guarded by two koalas, an Australian and boxing kangaroo flag and a bowel cancer ribbon. It overlooked the peak of Mt Everest.
As Doreen’s ashes were scattered Bryan read the following words:
‘Underneath the Southern Cross she stands
A twig of wattle in her hand
A native of her native land
Doreen you bloody beauty
May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the sun shine bright on your face
May the rain fall soft upon your fields
Doreen you visited in 2003
You came to stay in 2019
Until we meet again my love
Enjoy your new journey’
“May Doreen’s spirit now rest amongst the mountains of Mt Everest (Sagarmatha), in the Solukhumbu region of Nepal,” says Bryan.
Having visited the country twice, Bryan believes that Nepal is more than just climbing and trekking, it is a life changing experience that’s as close a journey to achieving Nirvana.