Palliative Care - Giving Up or Opening Up?

By Glen R. Horst, D. Min., Spiritual Care Advisor at Canadian Virtual Hospice

Many people think palliative care is care for the dying. Some believe that people don’t need to think about palliative care until nothing more can be done and only when death is near.

When you’ve been focusing on trying to fight cancer and get well again, talking about palliative care can seem like an admission of defeat. If the specialists who have been treating you suggest palliative care, you may feel that they are giving up the fight and abandoning you. If your family starts to explore palliative care options, you may feel that they aren’t supporting you anymore. If you are the first to talk about palliative care, you may feel like you’re letting down your friends and family.

In spite of popular opinion, palliative care (often referred to as “hospice palliative care”) is not the last resort. Rather, it is a care approach that helps you to live well amidst the threats of serious illness. It aims to reduce distress, provide support and comfort, and improve the quality of your life. The concepts that guide palliative care include:
  • good communication and help with making decisions about your care and treatment options that suit you
  • care that considers your physical, social, psychological, spiritual and practical needs and the needs of your family
  • taking care of pain and other symptoms by specialists to keep you as comfortable as possible
  • opening opportunities for personal and spiritual growth during the illness if you wish
  • support through the transitions, loss and grief during and following the illness for you and your family

Health care providers are sometimes reluctant to talk about palliative care even if you are open to hearing about it. You don’t need to wait for them to bring the topic up. You can begin the conversation at any time with your family physician, a cancer specialist or another member of the health care team involved in your treatment. You can ask them when you might benefit from palliative care. You might also ask how you can get information about the palliative care services in your area.

Talking with your family or close friends about your interest in palliative can be a helpful first step, especially if you sense that your family may not be on the same page as you.

Canadian Virtual Hospice  has information about palliative care that can help you decide if you’re ready to explore this now. “What is Palliative Care? ” explains what it is, when and where it is provided, who provides it, and how to find palliative care services in Canada. Palliative care programs usually have guidelines about when and how you can access their services. Canadian Virtual Hospice provides contact information for the local, regional and national Programs and Services  available to you so you can explore them further. Even if you are not yet ready for admission to the program in your area, knowing about their services can give you the feeling that you hold an ace while you play a difficult hand.

Have you ever talked about palliative care with your doctor, family or friends?

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