What is Palliative Care?
Palliative (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) care is a specialty focused on helping
you live life as fully as possible by:
- Optimizing your comfort
- Providing support for you and your family
- Helping you make the best decisions for you
Palliative care is delivered by a team of health care professionals that
includes a variety of physicians (including palliative care special ists),
nurses,counselors, and therapists. They have special expertise in managing
symptoms that don't respond well to usual measures prescribed by oncologists,
surgeons, and primary care physicians.
What if it's too early to discuss what you'd want if you became too ill
to tell us?
It's never too early-even if you were perfectly healthy-to discuss what
you would want if you ever got too ill to say. Advances in supportive
care (such as breathing machines and artificial nutrition) can keep people
alive while recovery is very, very unlikely-and those treatments can cause
suffering. That is why we need to know what you would want us to do.
People sometimes get very sick without warning. During a crisis, it's
much more difficult to have these discussions. By talking about these
things now, you don't risk getting very sick before you have a chance
to tell us what you want (and end up having things done that you don't
want done). Once we've had these discussions, you can relax. You can take
comfort knowing you've done all you can to maintain as much control as
possible, whatever happens... and knowing we will work hard to honor your wishes.
What if you and your loved ones don't agree about treatment?
When it comes to your illness, everyone has his or her own desires and
worries. Disagreements are common. It's okay to disagree, too, unless
others' opinions keep you from making the best decisions for you. One
way palliative care can help you is by helping your family.
Regarding your decisions, palliative care specialists help guide your loved ones to:
- Understand and support the decisions that are best for you
- Deal with their own desires and worries in ways that help them and don't harm you
How do palliative care specialists help you make your best decisions?
They help by...
- Describing your condition using different words than oncologists use
- Answering your questions about your condition and options
- Helping clarify your top-priority hopes and preferences
- Avoiding misunderstandings by exploring what common phrases mean to you
(for example, "I want to get better" means different things to different people)
- Offering an outside perspective based on experience and expertise
Why are some decisions more difficult?
These decisions are difficult because of the uncertainty about the future.
We don't want to give up hope of recovery too soon. At the same time,
we don't want to hold on to hope too long and then regret having continued
treatments that only prolonged suffering with no benefit.
Why should you involve palliative care in your decision-making?
The decisions you're facing today are probably more complicated and emotional
than the decisions you've made previously. To determine the best treatment
path now, we need to discuss things that are difficult for anyone to talk
about - things such as "what-ifs" and "hopes" and "goals of care".
Palliative care specialists are experts in helping people find words for
discussing options and determining the best path. They help everyone
(you, your loved ones, your doctors and nurses) stay on the same page
while making decisions. Most important, palliative care specialists advocate
for you, helping you maintain as much control as possible over your care.
Do palliative care specialists encourage patients to give up hope?
No, they do the opposite. They help you determine which hopes can help
you live your best life under the circumstances. They also teach you ways
to increase your hopefulness-and find hope if you're feeling hopeless.
Do palliative care specialists push your oncologists to stop cancer treatment?
No. Palliative care specialists push for a treatment plan that respects
your hopes and values. They push for whichever treatment path you determine
is best for you.
Is palliative care the same as hospice?
No. This is a common source of confusion. Palliative care is an all inclusive
term for care devoted to improving comfort and helping patients live their
best possible life. Palliative care is for people of any age with
any medical condition, including patients we expect to make a complete recovery.
In contrast, hospice is a specialized type of palliative care for people
whose life expectancy is 6 months (or less), whether due to chronic disease,
sudden illness or injury, or normal aging.