Why You Need to Know About Palliative Care
September 28th, 2021 by Catherine Hammond
“So tell us, how did the two of you meet?”
It’s not the way most medical appointments begin, but it was the way our recent appointment with Anschutz’s palliative care team started. With the return of my fiancé Brian’s serious cancer and beginning of chemotherapy, we requested this appointment because we knew that palliative care increases both qualities of life and length of life for cancer patients, although to be honest, I didn’t know a lot about what it actually is. Our experience was so powerful I believe everyone needs to know about this newer medical discipline.
What is palliative care?
Most healthcare providers spend their time discussing disease and treatment options, especially when there’s a serious, chronic, or terminal disease. Palliative care is focused on improving the quality of life for both the patient and their family. It is typically provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work together with your other doctors to provide support beyond treating the illness. It is based on your needs, not on your prognosis.
While many people think that it’s for people who are dying, palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness. It can (and should!) be provided alongside treatments designed to slow, cure, or treat your disease.
In its August 19, 2010 issue, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that cancer patients who received palliative care early on, alongside their traditional cancer treatments, showed marked improvement in their overall quality of life and lived more than two months longer than those who received the same cancer treatment without palliative services.
Palliative care in real life
During our recent meeting with the physician’s assistant and social worker who makes up this palliative care team, we talked about the life that Brian and I were living prior to his chemotherapy, the types of things we enjoyed doing and want to continue. We discussed what makes life meaningful for each of us and specific ways for us to create more of that in our worlds, even as Brian’s chemotherapy changes a lot in our day-to-day lives. They made specific suggestions for dealing with side effects like pain and fatigue, ideas that the oncologist simply didn’t have time to discuss with us.
The final portion of the meeting was spent reviewing Brian’s medical wishes in almost excruciating detail. I talk about these choices with clients on a daily basis and was quickly reminded why we need someone else to help us have the hardest conversations. As we talked about situations where he wouldn’t want his life prolonged, in the midst of a situation where end-of-life decisions are no longer theoretical but very real, I felt fear and sadness rising up inside of me. But I didn’t have to carry the conversation, the professionals did, and that was exactly what I needed when facing the prospects of what is to come.
As they listened to what he does and doesn’t want in terms of future care specific to the projected course of his cancer, they filled out a MOST form. MOST stands for Medical Orders for Scope of Treatment, an official doctor’s order that must be followed, unlike the Living Will or Five Wishes we do in the legal world which simply expresses your wishes. If difficult decisions need to be made, especially in the heat of the moment, this document will ensure that they are made in the way that Brian wants.
What really matters
I left our initial two-hour meeting feeling seen and heard and carried at a deep level I’ve never experienced in the medical world, and rarely experienced in life. We had an action plan for how to improve our life with cancer and chemotherapy over the next month, and more importantly, Brian and I gained a better understanding of each other and what we most need during this time.
Palliative care is available in most areas and through most hospital systems and serves as an incredibly helpful supplement to any traditional medical care you are receiving. Since many doctors themselves aren’t very familiar with the benefits of palliative care you may need to ask for a referral. Don’t hesitate to ask. Whether you are expecting to live for many years or for a shorter time, palliative care can help make your days the best that they can be.
We offer workshops and webinars every month for our clients.
A few of the workshops that address end of life care are:
Taking Control of Healthcare Decisions
NEW Palliative Care workshop in 2022