Hospice care inspires Joao to live fully

* Joao Simoes

Cancer may have riddled his body; but his generosity of spirit remains unbowed.

Joao Simoes has lived a life dedicated to the good fight. A fisherman of Kalk Bay, he has been an activist for his fellow fishermen since 2004, fighting for fair quotas and an end to what he describes as evil corruption in an industry turned upside down.

But in recent years, it is Mr Simoes’ own world which has been upturned. He has been diagnosed with rectal cancer, he has deep vein thrombosis in both legs, he has arthritis in his shoulders and his cancer is now spreading up his spine.

An unpretentious man, Mr Simoes calls it what is. He names these debilitating illnesses but he does not let them define him. He knows the gravity of the situation but he is, he points out, still alive. He wishes people would stop telling him about all the people they know who have died from cancer. He knows some people survive it, too. “If I live for tomorrow then that’s what is,” he said.

But his life as it is now, he says, he owes to the tremendous care he received at St Luke’s Hospice in Kenilworth.

“I am still flabbergasted. Some of the most compassionate and caring, beautiful people I have ever met, I met there. I was on my way out. And I am here now, because of their care,” he said.

Mr Simoes becomes pensive. “The staff examined all the medicine I had received from the various state hospitals I had been to, and figured out what was working, what wasn’t, adjusted it all and created a personal regime of medications which work specifically for me,” he said.

He cannot thank them enough, he said. So he gave what he could. He gave of himself.

“I decided while I was there that I would give them a gift for every day I was in their care. So I drew them pictures, and then I did two paintings. When I went home, I donated all my art to them,” he said. There were 10 artworks in all.

But he wasn’t done yet. At his home in Kalk Bay Mr Simoes is known for his green thumb. He has a particular love of cactus. Mr Simoes cares for the garden at the back of the Kalk Bay Community Centre and for his own mountain slope garden, which in the morning light of our visit, was golden soft, and warm.

We sat on his stoep with his good friend, his dog at his side, and spoke about life and living and what is important.

Mr Simoes tells how he returned to St Luke’s Hospice not as a patient, but to create a cactus rockery for them in their garden. He called it a small gesture of gratitude.

He did the layout and much of the work himself even in his frail state – but he did have help from a willing gardener on the hospice grounds.

His next step is the donation of a wheelchair, unused, still in its packaging. He had bought this for his mom but she never got to use it, he says. And while he can barely walk himself, he says he will have no need of this; he wants it to be put to good use. And he couldn’t think of a better place to donate it to.

“I know that whoever uses it, will be in the best hands possible, at a time when they most need it,” he said. He is in a rare position, he says, most people who go to hospice do so to die.

While he talks, he strokes the back and ears of the smiling dog at his side. “No matter what we are going through – we can still always help another,” Mr Simoes said.

Kirsty Gilmour of St Luke’s Hospice said: “St Luke’s Combined Hospices are so thrilled that Joao chose to share his incredible talents with us. The ward rockery creates such a beautiful focal point in the garden. All the rooms of the in-patient unit open onto the tranquil garden, further enhanced by Joao’s rockery.”

Ms Gilmour said that St Luke’s provides end of life care to patients across Cape Town from all walks of life. The head office and in-patient unit is located in Kenilworth but they have a local branch based on Kommetjie Road in Fish Hoek as well as their charity shop in Fish Hoek which – thanks to the generosity of False Bay residents – provides much-needed funds for their services.

Ms Gilmour said people can help by volunteering their time in their Fish Hoek shop or by looking at their website; www.stlukes.co.za for other ways to get involved.