Monday 16 July 2018

Hospice patient Gabriel Peelo: 'I want everyone to know how important it is to tell your children how much you love them'

When Gabriel Peelo was diagnosed with cancer, his world began to fall apart. However, he tells our reporter, a concerned doctor gave him renewed hope, when he introduced him to the healing services on offer at Our Lady's Hospice

Gabriel Peelo. Steve Humpreys
Gabriel Peelo. Steve Humpreys

Joy Orpen

Gabriel Peelo is a fine example of what has become a rare species - the perfect gentleman.

Although he is well into his 80s, he is uprightly tall, lean and mobile. But what really defines him is his undoubtedly good soul, personified by his warm smile, firm handshake, beautiful manners and lovely sense of humour.

An only child, Gabriel's beginnings were not auspicious. A year after he was born in 1931, his father died of pneumonia. And, five years later, tragedy struck again when his mother passed away. So, he was brought up by his grandparents, in Synge Street. "My grandparents weren't the richest people in the world," he says. "They had nine kids of their own, and me. But nonetheless, it was a happy home."

After school, he did a printing apprenticeship and later toiled for many years for a company that produced bank notes. Exactly 60 years ago, he married Bernadette McGuinness, whom he had known since she was just a girl.

They surpassed the example set by Gabriel's grandparents and had 11 children of their own. Among them is Mick Peelo, the award-winning documentary maker, and presenter of Beyond Belief and Would You Believe? Gabriel's grandson Ferdia was the star of the successful movie Sing Street.

Gabriel was one of the few fortunate people in the 1940s and 1950s to be gainfully employed. "I had a good job with a good salary," he volunteers. "I always wore a suit and tie. But make no mistake, I had to work hard."

So how did he manage to accommodate such a big brood? They started out with a modest three-bedroom house and in the fullness of time, added another three bedrooms to accommodate their expanding family, as well as Bernadette's elderly mother.

However, the sense of security that this family had enjoyed for so many years, came to an abrupt and unsettling end in 1980, when the company Gabriel worked for relocated to Singapore. "I still had six children at school," he says. "So I opened up a little printing shop in Harold's Cross. Meanwhile Bernadette went back to work as a nurse." The shop helped keep the family afloat for a decade or so, but eventually they decided to close it down. "We got by, just the same," says Gabriel.

As the decades rolled on, the Peelos continued to revel in the joy a big family can bring. They have a particularly soft spot for their youngest son Paddy, who had a difficult birth many moons ago. "He was a child with special needs who has always been at the centre of this family," says his proud father. "He keeps us all under control. Paddy is now living in an apartment with people to help him."

So, all was going really well until late in 2016, when Gabriel began to feel so sick that he went to the doctor. Following various tests, including a colonoscopy, bowel cancer was diagnosed. Having had surgery to remove the tumour, he spent several weeks in hospital, followed by a fortnight in a nursing home.

"They gave me a colostomy bag, which was awful at the time," says Gabriel. "But I got used to it." Eventually, he was able to return home to his beloved Bernadette. Unfortunately, subsequent tests discovered abnormal cells in his lungs and liver. "I've had emphysema for years and it never bothered me. I've also had Type-2 diabetes for 30 years, and that now appears to have mysteriously vanished altogether," Gabriel says with some amusement.

However, the stress of all this was compounded by the fact that Bernadette was also struggling with ill health. So, by his own admission, Gabriel's mood plummeted. "I felt like a fellow in a little, open boat, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with no oars. I was totally lost."

Fortunately, Gabriel had an excellent GP to guide him. "Apart from our own family doctor, who has since retired, Dr Andrew Delany is the best GP I have ever met. He gives you all his attention and looks you straight in the eye, unlike some other doctors who never bother to take their eyes off their computers."

"Once I talked to him, I didn't feel helpless or hopeless anymore. In fact, he gave me back some hope." Dr Delany asked Gabriel if he might be interested in some counselling, but he rejected that idea. "I had enough on my plate already," he says. "I just couldn't cope with anyone else in my life at that time. Besides, I had my family around me."

The doctor then suggested Gabriel connect with Our Lady's Hospice in Harold's Cross. And though he was reluctant at first, he eventually agreed to visit the daycare centre. So, what did he do there? "I picked cherries and I climbed a high mountain," he says, then bursts out laughing, before explaining that he did tai chi and other gentle pursuits.

The visit was so successful, Gabriel then decided to sign up for in-house respite, so he could get the help he needed to manage his various medications, particularly those needed for pain relief. "I ended up spending three weeks in respite, and now feel a big improvement in myself," says Gabriel.

"Pain is very exhausting. So, managing it is important. It's a process of trial and error. But we're getting there. The staff at the hospice are unbelievable. I think they're not real people. It's like having an Aladdin's lamp," he explains, "every time you rub it, they're there, even if it's two or three in the morning. Nothing is ever too much trouble for them."

Gabriel is now back home again and secure in the knowledge that at any time he can call on members of Our Lady's Hospice specialist community palliative care team, to help him out. "They will come to me at home if I need them," he says. "And if I want to go in for a week to be stabilised, they'll bring me back no problem. I'm in their hands and they'll look after me."

So now Gabriel is more able to enjoy his own very special family. "I want to spend as much precious time with Bernadette and the kids as I possibly can," he says. "I want everyone to know how important it is to tell your own children how much you love them. We all tell our grandchildren that but we neglect to tell our own kids. At the end of the day, it's family that really matters."

Our Lady's Hospice & Care Services provides support and medical interventions at their residential and day care centres in Harold's Cross and Blackrock in Dublin. They also have a reablement unit and offer home visits. For more information, please contact Our Lady's Hospice, tel: (01) 406-8700, or see olh.ie

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