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Coping With a Life-Threatening Illness

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

Coping With the News continued...

What does Daly mean by that?

"When doctors start focusing on managing symptoms rather than on a cure, people's lives often improve," she says. "And the time frame that you have left can vary widely. A lot of times, people can manage symptoms for years. When you are involved with palliative care earlier, symptoms are better managed, and you have more support in terms of making difficult decisions. Certainly people can do better than they might ever expect."

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."

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