Palliative Care: Myths vs. Facts

I just returned from the Pancreas Club 2018 conference in Washington D.C., where I listened to 63 oral abstracts regarding ongoing research. It was a lot to sit through! The final presentation on the second and last day was titled “Utilization of palliative care services among patients with pancreatic cancer.”

I find it ironic that palliative care was recommended to Nikki very near the end of her life and the conference pushed this presentation to the very end as well. Nikki and I spoke many times about the need for palliative care early in a cancer diagnosis. Why not utilize all avenues to strengthen and improve your quality of life and build up a support system? I believe doctors and patients lack education on this extremely important and helpful type of care.

So, what is Palliative Care?  PALLIATIVE CARE IS “NOT” HOSPICE CARE.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illness. This type of care is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.

5 Myths and Facts of Palliative Care

  1. Myth: Palliative care hastens death. 
    Fact:
     Palliative care does not hasten death. It provides comfort and the best quality of life from diagnosis of an advanced illness until end of life.
  2. Myth:Palliative care is only for people dying of cancer.
    Fact: Palliative care can benefit patients and their families from the time of diagnosis of any illness that may shorten life.
  3. Myth: Palliative care is only provided in a hospital.
    Fact:Palliative care can be provided wherever the patient lives: home, long-term care facility, hospice or hospital. 
  4. Myth:Taking pain medications in palliative care leads to addiction. 
    Fact: 
    Keeping people comfortable often requires increased doses of pain medication. This is a result of tolerance to medication as the body adjusts, not addiction. 
  5. Myth:Palliative care means my doctor has given up and there is no hope for me.
    Fact: Palliative care ensures the best quality of life for those who have been diagnosed with an advanced illness.

The last myth is a big pet peeve of mine. I have heard people comment, “If your doctor mentions palliative care, then get a new doctor.” They think this means the doctor has given up on them, but this is flat out incorrect. If a doctor recommends palliative care, then you have a progressive doctor seeking to treat the whole person and ultimately, their loved ones. That is the kind of forward-thinking doctor I’d want for myself.

This type of care treats pain, depression, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, anxiety and any other symptoms that may be causing distress. The doctor will help you gain the strength to carry on with daily life and improve your quality of life.

Nikki’s first visit with her palliative care doctor was amazing! He sat and listened to her for a very long time, asked many questions and listened to her answers. He then formulated a plan specifically for her and gave her the tools she needed to move forward. When she felt better, physically and mentally, she wasn’t a cancer patient, she was just Nikki…

For more information on palliative care, click HERE (scroll to the end) and HERE.

Post by Rhonda Miles

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