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Volunteers focus on providing emotional support

Education event set for Oct. 14 at Centennial Theatre

For the last year, the Paul Sugar Palliative Support Foundation Palliative Support Centre has been operating out of Delbrook Plaza and it’s important to note that both the coffee and tea are always on.

While a host of free programming is offered to serve those facing death and dealing with the stress, pain and discomfort of illness, their families, friends and caregivers, as well as those dealing with mortality in the wake of having lost someone they love, the centre’s main aim is to address the human needs of those who walk through its doors, whatever they may be.

The space has been designed to offer visitors a welcoming, calming and home-like setting, encouraging them to feel the freedom and safety required to be able to open up about their experiences, and share what would best serve them at that particular juncture.

Those behind the Palliative Support Centre, celebrating its one-year anniversary this month, hope more community members will join them in their efforts.

“Sooner or later, everyone is involved in this kind of thing,” says Dr. Paul Sugar, foundation co-founder and long-serving North Shore palliative care physician, reflecting on the realities of the human condition.

“The community is a huge source of strength to people when they’re having a difficult time,” he adds.

Interested in offering additional support to patients, and their friends and family, outside of the regular health-care system, Sugar, who treats patients at Lions Gate Hospital, the North Shore Hospice as well as in the wider community, partnered with clinical pharmacist Dr. Marylene Kyriazis to launch the foundation that bears his name in November 2013.

Their mission is to address the “heart and soul” of those dealing with terminal illness, rather than just the “nuts and bolts,” says Sugar. The foundation, which recently received charitable status, works to offer support to individuals and families in financial need, pertaining to both their physical and emotional well-being.

Interested in going one step further in their efforts, Sugar and Kyriazis co-founded the Palliative Support Centre, which opened in October 2015.

“We’re not replacing the system in any way, or shape or form, we’re working as a complement to the health-care system, so to provide the non-medical supports that complement what’s already available in the health-care system,” says Kyriazis.

“We see it as a new model of care for community support that we hope one day will be duplicated in other communities,” she adds.

There is no formal intake process for newcomers who walk through their doors. “We look at each individual and make sure that the support we give them is very individualized according to their specific needs,” says Kyriazis.

“We don’t tell people what they need because everybody’s telling people what they need. We don’t do that at all. We try to extract from them what their needs are and then we put in a support system to support those needs,” she adds.

That’s an approach Sugar has long taken in his medical practice, something he’s pleased to be able to similarly apply in the centre environment.

“You have to be so incredibly sensitive to the differences in people and how they approach their serious illness or their death or how their families approach it. You have to be very clear in your objectives in order to be able to deliver what we consider to be important. That kind of clarity, you have to be able to look at people and see their face, look in their eyes, and be honest, clear and be ready to receive them the way they are, not try and imprint what you have to give on them,” he says.

Programs are offered both in group as well as one-on-one sessions. Examples include meditation, yoga, relaxation, art and music therapy, lymphatic drainage massage, acupuncture, educational workshops and discussion groups. “These programs are a way to connect with people coming through our doors, but ultimately the programs are a way to our final goal, which is providing emotional support,” says Kyriazis.

All the centre’s offerings are free and made possible through the efforts of volunteers.

“We have a volunteer that makes us cookies every week. It’s a great help,” says Kyriazis, explaining they’re always grateful for the support of community members in any capacity, including donations of funds, time or skills.

North Vancouver’s Ellie Mahboubi, 72, started using the centre in the spring in light of her diagnosis and treatment related to breast cancer.

She took advantage of some of its regular programming, was assisted in obtaining transportation to the B.C. Cancer Agency for treatment, and continues to enjoy the opportunity to chat with fellow centre users over coffee and tea. “It’s very nice. They open up,” she says.

Mahboubi is grateful for the support of the centre volunteers. “They are so personal, I just don’t think of them as volunteers but friends,” she says.

The foundation is presenting an upcoming free public education and awareness event, Community Care at End of Life: PS … Let’s Talk … About Your Needs and Our Supports, Friday, Oct. 14, at 6:30 p.m. at North Vancouver’s Centennial Theatre. Tickets are free, but required (phone 778-729-1555 or visit centennialtheatre.com).

Kyriazis and Sugar are the featured presenters at the talk and they invite all community members as well as health-care professionals to attend.

“We want to appeal to not only families, not only the patients but because this is a community effort we want to appeal to the community as well. We want them to be aware of what’s available for them and also ways in which they can contribute,” says Sugar.

Sugar is pleased that more and more people are expressing a curiosity regarding mortality.

“I think it’s in the last decade that people are becoming a lot more interested in the whole process rather than fearing it. I think people are now addressing the idea that yes, death is real and it’s not something to be avoided because you can’t avoid it,” he says.

The Palliative Support Centre is located at 3743 Delbrook Ave., in North Vancouver. Operating hours are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Phones are answered outside of regular hours. For more information, phone 778-729-1555 or visit palliativesupport.ca.

For more information on the Paul Sugar Palliative Support Foundation, visit paulsugarfoundation.com.

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