“For one person 50 lemons is a burden, for 50 people, 50 lemons are like jewellery.” – Ethiopian Proverb
If the burden of palliative care is shared, it will turn into something beautiful.
Ephrem Abathun is an infectiously positive man who is dedicated to improving end of life care for those living in poverty.
He calls what they do ‘taking away the pain’. By this, he means the psychological pain of impending death; the social pain of not being able to afford medicines; rent or food; the spiritual pain of feeling you have been cursed to suffer; and lastly the pain of the body, which is so severe that sleep and speech are impossible.
It is common in Ethiopia to see people with advanced cancer. There is no routine screening and only one radiation therapy machine for a population of over 107 million. The wealthy go abroad for treatment but the majority of people with cancer die in pain and without dignity.
Kalkidan Abera will never forget the first time she met with Ephrem and his team. She felt as though angels had come to help her. At just 25 years old, and mother to twin boys, she is nearing the end of her own cancer journey.
Kalkidan was just 17 when her boys were born as a result of rape. Left alone, she turned to begging and labouring to provide for her sons and eventually managed to afford the rent for a room. Finally, she felt safe and had a place to call home.
But this all changed in 2016 when Kalkidan noticed a pain in her left breast. After seeking medical advice she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Within months, a wound developed on Kalkidan’s breast. She didn’t know what to do. The pain was debilitating and her wound began to smell. Neighbours kept away for fear of the illness spreading. The pain kept Kalkidan bedbound.
Just as Kalkidan lost all hope, a Hospice Ethiopia volunteer found her. Ephrem’s team treated her with care and sympathy, dressed her wound and administered medication to control the pain. They provided financial and emotional support, food and educational materials for her children. As a result, she feels much better in herself and life has become more manageable. Kalkidan has even become a volunteer for Hospice Ethiopia so that she can help identify new patients and offer support with simple tasks like shopping, preparing food and being a friend.
Ephrem is passionate about offering quality end of life care. As palliative care awareness continues to improve in Ethiopia, Ephrem and the Hospice Ethiopia team feel encouraged that they’ll be able to offer their support to more people in desperate need. There is always something that can be done to improve their quality of life, not just for the individual but for the entire community.