What Is Palliative Care?
Quality of Life continued...
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.
Like Huggins, people who face serious illness often need emotional and spiritual support.
Beverly, a 55-year-old San Francisco Bay Area woman who requested that her last name be withheld, was diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 37 and has had multiple recurrences. She felt outraged, as she worried that her illness might have been preventable; she believes it may have stemmed from textile dyes that she had used frequently without knowing of their cancer-causing potential.
She resents the pressure to be an upbeat cancer warrior.
"[Cancer] is not a gift. This is the worst thing that's ever happened to me," Beverly says.
Her family and friends urged her to be positive. But when a social worker allowed her to vent her anger, she began to cope with her powerful emotions. "I felt that compassion from her. I got to be a whole person in her eyes," Beverly says.
Palliative care is holistic. For patients, this means attending to the challenges that illness poses in every aspect of life. It also means that palliative care extends to family members and caregivers. Support services may include:
- educating family members about the patient's illness, treatment, and medications
- respite care for caregivers
- home help with transportation, meals, and shopping.