What Is Palliative Care?
When Is Palliative Care Appropriate?
Patients like Huggins can begin palliative care as soon as they're diagnosed with a serious illness, at the same time they continue to pursue a cure. Palliative care doesn't signal that a person has given up hope for a recovery.
Some patients recover and move out of palliative care. Others with chronic diseases, such as COPD, may move in and out of palliative care as the need arises.
If cure of a life-threatening disease proves elusive, palliative care can improve the quality of patients' lives. And when death draws near, palliative care can segue into hospice care.
Quality of Life
When it comes to quality of life, each patient has his or her own vision.
"Each suffering is unique. Each individual is unique, and each family and the dynamics are unique," Chan says.
"There is no generalization and that's the key," Meier says. "Palliative care is genuinely patient-centered, meaning: We ask the patient what's important to them and what their major priorities are. Based on what the patients or the family tell us, we then develop a care plan and a strategy that meets the patient's goals and values."
For some people, Meier says, the goal or value might be to live as long as possible -- no matter what the quality.
"Maybe one in 10 to one in 20 patients don't care if they're on a ventilator and on dialysis for the rest of their life. They're waiting for a miracle and that's what they want," she says. "They understand the odds and that's their choice. And then we will do everything in our power to make sure that their goals are respected and adhered to."
But some patients, such as Merijane Block, care more about the quality of each day. The 57-year-old San Francisco woman was diagnosed at age 38 with breast cancer that has spread to her spine.
"My hope [is] to live as well as I can for as long as I can. Actually, for me, the emphasis is on the wellness. The length of my life has ceased to be as important as it used to be before I was diagnosed with cancer. I always wanted to live to be 100 when I was young and innocent -- like the year before I was diagnosed," she says.
Block's palliative care doctor prescribes a medicated patch for chronic spinal pain that would be debilitating otherwise.
"I have pain all the time, but I'm not living in this state of agonizing pain because my pain is actually well managed," she says.
Although pain management is a major part of palliative care, patients can also seek help with other symptoms such as nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, constipation, shortness of breath, and trouble sleeping.