By: Andrew Esch, MD
Whether you are newly diagnosed, in the midst of treatment, or are a survivor of colorectal cancer, you may be grappling with symptoms and side effects, or other related physical and emotional challenges.
Did you know that there’s a specialized medical team available to support you at any stage of disease?
The role of palliative care
Palliative (pronounced “pal-lee-uh-tiv”) care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. It focuses on providing you with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness like colon cancer. The goal is to improve quality of life for both you and your family.
Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, social workers, and other specialists who work alongside your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage of your illness. You can have it together with all other treatments.
Palliative care specialists also help you to understand complex medical information, and to match your treatment choices to your personal needs and goals. Your palliative care team helps you to better cope with the challenges of living with colon cancer or rectal cancer.
How palliative care can help
Palliative care teams serve as a sounding board and are your first line of defense against any symptoms of pain, discomfort, depression, or anxiety. The palliative care specialists help you and your loved ones make both large and small decisions. They will enhance communication between you, your family, and your other doctors, and help you to clarify your goals for care.
The American Society of Clinical Oncologists now recommends that all patients with advanced cancer have access to palliative care early and as part of their standard care. But it’s important to know that anyone with cancer can receive palliative care at the point of diagnosis. And the sooner, the better.
One patient, for example, was referred to an outpatient palliative care team due to a combination of financial challenges, loss of independence, and unmanaged symptoms. Karena was diagnosed with stage-III colon cancer in 2013, which spread to her lungs. She received several rounds of treatment and the palliative care team helped her through it all.
Karena’s palliative care team was there to manage lung surgery and its treatment, and in helping her find relief from unrelieved excruciating pain that persisted for several months. Along the way, they have supported her around many aspects of her life—from work and family responsibilities to specific health and emotional needs.
By listening to Karena carefully, the palliative care team helped her find a balance between her desire to keep working and take care of her family—including two teenage sons and, most importantly, herself. They also provided family support, including aiding one of her sons. The goal for Karena and anyone with a serious illness who taps into palliative care is to have the best quality of life possible.
“They guide me on how to be active with my health in a positive way. I wouldn’t know what to do without palliative care,” Karena says in a GetPalliativeCare.org podcast. Karena says she wishes she had met the palliative care team even sooner—and wants others with serious illnesses to know they should do so. To hear more of Karena’s story on GetPalliativeCare.org, click here.
How to get palliative care
If you or a loved one is facing colorectal cancer, ask your doctor for a referral to palliative care—the earlier the better. You can receive palliative care in the hospital, at an outpatient clinic and sometimes at home.
Although living with colorectal cancer is a difficult journey, your burden may be eased and the best possible quality of life achieved when palliative care is involved.
Click here for more information about how palliative care can help with colon cancer and rectal cancer. Take this quiz to find out if palliative care is right for you. And find providers in your area in this Palliative Care Provider Directory.
Dr. Andrew Esch is medical education consultant to the Center to Advance Palliative Care. A palliative care specialist, Dr. Esch focuses on improving quality of life for patients and their families as they face serious illness. Dr. Esch earned his medical degree from the University of Buffalo.