End of life advocate inducted to hall of fame

Karen Anderson

National Palliative Care Week May 22 – 28

A MELVILLE resident  who’s dedicated her life to fostering better end-of-life care has been inducted into the WA Women’s Hall of Fame on the eve of national Palliative Care Week.

Karen Anderson’s interest in palliative care was sparked during one of the earlier phases of her inspiring life, when as one of the first graduates of the Churchlands Teachers College she headed north to set up schools in rural areas.

With that experience under her belt, Ms Anderson was invited to set up a school on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, but while there one of her young students was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“I was curious, interested and enthralled with how this small island community observed the process of terminal illness, dying and death,” Ms Anderson said.


She said they worked through dying in more diverse ways than she’d experienced back on the mainland.

“Also, my very loved younger sister was born with severe intellectual disability and critical heart disease, so I have grown up in a family where death in a myriad of ways was talked about openly, freely and respectfully.

“Later having married in my mid-20s, my husband developed schizophrenia and later died by suicide when we were still in our late 20s. It was confronting and catapulted me into seeking to explore and better understand life and death issues.”

Ms Anderson took a more formal interest when she took a job with the Cancer Council WA and had an office at the Cottage Hospice in Shenton Park.

“Today, it is far more acceptable to talk about terminal illness, dying and death in our society however, it still remains incredibly challenging for some people and in some communities within society,” she says.

“We have public programs encouraging more discussions about difficult and challenging.

“For example, campaigns such as the ‘Are you Ok?’  and the ‘Me too’ are acceptable in today’s global societies. 

“This is a good thing and there is further still to go. We are at a time in our human condition and societal challenges where demand for psychological support and counselling support is increasing exponentially.”

Ms Anderson, who now runs a psychodynamic psychotherapy and counselling service in Attadale, said more government support was needed to expand end of life services and make them more available.

“This has been heightened by the global pandemic.

“Investing into comprehensive public education programs under a community development model certainly would assist to incorporate end of life discussions more readily into individual, familial, community and societal interactions and engagements.

“An end of life experience is something which every one of us will encounter.

“We can only imagine the experience until we reach it.

“Encouraging and permitting healthy discussions at all levels starting early with young children is a wise and empowering endeavour.”

Ms Anderson say research has shown that people with life-threatening illnesses who feel supported is significant in their adjustment to the disease.

National Palliative Care Week is from May 22 – 28.

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