Sharon’s art instils appreciation

When you walk into the main entrance of Grampians Health’s Stawell campus, your attention is likely to be diverted by a powerful piece of art that speaks of turbulence and of love. 

The story behind the painting is about those same emotions. It’s the story of an Aboriginal teacher from Queensland whose journey took her to all corners of her country and ended peacefully and lovingly in Stawell’s Simpson Ward. 

Sharon Lee Guttie lived most of her 50-plus years across the spans of Australia’s northern country, raising four children in between teaching at high schools and creating her amazing artwork. Eight years ago, her only daughter Cody-Lee Hayne moved from Northern Territory to Stawell where she met her partner and started a family. 

Sharon wanted to spend as much time with her grandchildren as possible so four years ago she also moved to Stawell. Before she made the move, Sharon had often been unwell but liked to keep those problems to herself. 

Earlier this year, Sharon’s health deteriorated, and she eventually asked Cody-Lee to take her to see a doctor. She learned then that she most likely had cancer but would need further investigation to confirm that. 

On June 26, Sharon was admitted to day procedure at Ballarat Base Hospital for a biopsy and it was confirmed that she had an aggressive liver cancer. Her doctor said the cancer was inoperable, but she would make sure she wasn’t in pain. From there, Sharon’s health waned rapidly, and she was losing around 2kg a week. 

Cody-Lee took her mother to different clinics around the region to give her every possible support because more than anything Sharon was dreading having to spend time in hospital. Inevitably, Sharon became too sick to be under care at home and her children chose to admit her to Stawell’s Simpson acute ward in late July. 

Cody-Lee said her Mum didn’t want to be in hospital. 

“She didn’t want to be there at all, but she quickly did a complete turnaround and she wanted to be there,” Cody-Lee said. 

“It was so comfortable to be able to walk in to visit her and after a while the nurses would say to me, ‘It’s okay Cody, you can go home. It’s our job to look after your Mum so we can do that for you’. 

“I would then relay that to Mum, and she was soon so happy that she would say, ‘Oh yeah, you can go bubba. They’re going to look after me’. 

“By the end she was just so at peace, and she just loved these nurses. She loved them.” 

Cody said Sharon had little ways of communicating with the doctor and initially she would come up with her own coping mechanisms for being in hospital. 

“Between the nurses, doctors, and Mum they referred to her cancer as ‘the elephant’ and that made it easier for her,” she said. 

“She had her favourite doctors and her favourite nurses. She felt good that she was able to vent to them because she didn’t want to do that with her family. 

“She knew that we were already going through a lot, so she didn’t want to make it worse for us. She felt really good that she could talk to the nurses.” 

In her final days, Sharon wanted to thank the team at Stawell campus for their care. She chose to donate to the campus, one of her paintings that she had previously refused to sell. She also made a video that Cody-Lee filmed. This is what she said: 

“I’d just like to say thank you very much to the Stawell hospital for the care that they’ve given me. You guys’ rock. I love you all very much. The painting is called ‘Turbulence’ … it has been a good time and a rough time. And you are very much loved and respected for the hard work that you guys have put in.” 

Cody-Lee said the hospital was good for her too while Sharon was a patient and it continued to be after her passing on August 19. 

“The hospital was my place, and the family room was my room and after Mum passed away, I had to snap out of that. But when I called back to see the doctor a few weeks after Mum died, they still welcomed me, and it still felt like my place.”