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Coping With a Life-Threatening Illness

Palliative Care: Improving Life for Patients and Caregivers
(continued)

Coping With the News continued...

Patients cared for by a palliative care team may actually live longer than patients who don't, says Thomas Smith, MD, co-founder of the palliative care program at Massey Cancer Center of Virginia Commonwealth University.

"A study done at Massachusetts General Hospital with lung cancer patients showed that those who were randomized to early palliative care plus the usual oncology care lived 2.7 months longer than those who got usual oncology care alone," Smith tells WebMD. "The palliative care group also had better symptom management and less depression, and the caregivers fared better afterward, maybe because they were prepared, or their loved one died at home rather than in the ICU, intubated."

Morrison advises that you ask your doctor the following questions:

  • What can I expect in terms of a prognosis? What are realistic expectations for how long I might live?
  • What is the likelihood of a cure? Is there anything that could potentially cure this disease?
  • What treatments are available that would allow me to live in the manner that I would like for as long as possible?

 

Sharing the News

Once you've learned about your diagnosis , you will have to share the news with others. For many people, this is the hardest part -- and the most necessary. "I encourage people not to go it alone," Daly says. "Some people feel better when they tell everyone. Others like to keep it as private as they can. But even for those who are very private, I encourage them to be sure that the people they most rely on are included in the circle of those who know what's going on and what you're feeling."

No matter who you tell, be sure to also tell them what you need.

"If you don't direct them in how you want them to help you, they'll help in whatever way they can figure out, and that might not be what you need," Daly says. "Maybe you need for them to come to your house every day and check on you. Maybe you need them to back off except when you call on them. It's different for each person. Don't expect people to guess."

There are many approaches for updating friends and family about your condition. You can:

  • Designate one friend or family member to pass the news along
  • Send out blanket e-mail updates
  • Create a Web site or blog, or join an existing one like caringbridge.org
  • Post updates on Facebook

"Some people want to tell their story over and over again to each person -- it helps them process their feelings," says Daly. "Others don't want to relive the experience and would rather someone explained things for them. There's no one right way."

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