When palliative care is mentioned, it can often induce a panicked response from both the patient and their families. This is because it is not necessarily fully understood. Palliative care does not mean death.
It is not the same as hospice care. It is for any age and is available whether that illness is curable, chronic, life-threatening, and/or life-limiting.
Palliative care can be implemented from the onset of diagnosis, whereas hospice care (which it is often mistaken for) is more commonly carried out once treatment has stopped;
The outcome has been concluded as terminal within a short period of time (usually when the diagnosed person has less than six months of life left).
Palliative care is a comprehensive specialty medical care that is a multifaceted and holistic approach that focuses on the “whole” of the person. Colon cancer affects more than just a person’s body.
This type of care encompasses helping a patient with physical, mental, emotional, social, practical, and spiritual challenges.
There are several definitions but the most notable is the World Health Organization’s. It describes palliative care as:
“An approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial, and spiritual.”
As stated in the definition above, the keywords that describe the purpose of palliative care are, improving the quality of life for the patient. It is very important for families to be included in this goal.
Studies have revealed that the provision of the best possible quality of life for the patient with colon cancer, lived longer than those who did not receive this care.
When is Palliative Care needed?
Palliative care is an essential option for those suffering from a serious illness such as: colon cancer, and a number of other diseases where the symptoms and stress of the illness take a major toll on the body, mind, and spirit.
It is helpful to make sure the patient has a record of their health care so far. Symptoms and their intensity and frequency are important to note and share at the initial consultation.
Bring a list of medications that are currently prescribed, and any other directives such as a living will and other legal documentation. It is always a great idea to bring a family member or friend to an appointment for support.
Your specialized team includes but is not limited to: doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners, specialists, dietitians, psychologists and social workers, physical therapists and massage therapists, and chaplains.
Palliative care is offered by home care agencies, hospitals, cancer centers, long-term care facilities, and other specialized agencies.
Knowing that palliative care is a whole-person approach and understanding what that means will help the patient to grasp how comprehensive the care is going to be.
Knowing what is available to them can help reduce the stress of having to think about, not only their physical care, but their peace-of-mind and other areas of their life that they need to cope with.
These areas are:
Physical – Unfortunately, painful symptoms are involved in serious illnesses. Relieving these symptoms is a vital goal and will be done through various medications and therapies.
Nutritional guidance may also be provided if it is deemed important.
Mental/emotional – It is a difficult time when fear, anxiety, hopelessness, and depression can take a hold of a patient and/or their carer. Access to counselors, support groups, and other mental health providers will be made available and encouraged to seek the help of regularly.
Spiritual – It is common to look for meaning and to question faith at a time like this. Spirituality has been linked to improving the quality of life for those with chronic illness. Chaplains and other spiritual guidance is readily available to those that wish to explore this aspect of themselves.
Practical – Financial challenges, legal matters, medical decisions, and many other practical challenges will arise in this time. Any member of the palliative care team may refer families to a financial counselor and legal aid, they can explain medical options;
They also help provide understanding for treatment options and other medical decisions to be made, and they can help guide patients and their families to resources for other practical help they might need.
It is also important to be prepared for and expect discussions about care plans, program and resource availability, treatment pros and cons, and decisions that are based around the patient’s values and goals.
This is designed to fit the life and needs of the patient and their caregivers. The medical professionals will have discussed the options in detail and decisions will have been made on how to proceed.
It is important to know that not everything will take effect at once. Remembering the goal of palliative care and having a positive expectation that it is going to create a better quality of life for those involved, especially the patient, is going to make easing into this new way of living much easier.
For specific information about palliative care in your country, speak to your doctor to find out more.