What do you think of when you hear the words “palliative care?” Do you associate it with giving up, quitting the fight, lying down to die? That’s a common misunderstanding of palliative care; it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
A better way to understand palliative care is that it’s an extra layer of support. It’s not an “either/or” choice where a patient has to decide between receiving disease-fighting treatment or palliative care, and it’s not a last resort. Palliative care treats the person in addition to the disease.
If you or a loved one are living with colon cancer, you know that the disease can affect your life in ways that reach far beyond the cancer’s physical symptoms and treatment. Palliative care focuses on quality of life by addressing these far-reaching issues. Here are some of the things palliative care does for patients:
- Relieves symptoms and side effects
- Manages pain
- Lessens emotional and spiritual distress
- Communicates what to expect as treatment progresses
- Finds treatments that match the patient’s goals
- Coordinates medical and practical needs
There are many patients who could hugely benefit from palliative care but aren’t receiving it. Most people believe that their doctor is already doing everything possible for them; it doesn’t occur to them to ask for any extra care. Your doctor is certainly doing all he can to treat your disease, but most doctors are not trained in palliative care. Palliative care is usually a team effort where you receive support from a specially trained nurse, doctor or social worker in addition to your oncologist and primary care provider.
While your doctor treats your disease, your palliative care specialist focuses on helping you live the best possible life as well as the longest possible life. One cancer survivor described her goal for treatment as “the Niagara Falls trajectory.” She meant that she wanted to maintain a high quality of life for as long as possible before a sharp drop-off at the end, rather than starting treatment with a sharp drop in life quality (think aggressive surgeries, intense chemotherapy and radiation) and maintaining a lower quality of life until reaching the same end. Palliative care is helping her achieve this goal while still fighting against her disease.
Palliative care takes the patient’s goals, priorities and concerns into account. Treatment and care are personalized and tailored. Why? Because one person’s cancer is not the same as another person’s and not everyone has the same goals.