Understanding Palliative Care
Find an extra layer of support
I’m a sign language interpreter, specializing in health care. Recently, I interpreted an appointment between an oncologist and Grace (not her real name), a 73-year-old deaf woman recently diagnosed with lung cancer. Grace brought her hearing twin sister Luz to the appointment. The two petite women with big brown eyes shared a home, a calm demeanor and have always looked after one another. Grace’s doctor reviewed her pathology report slowly and in mostly laymen’s terms, which allowed me to interpret slowly for Grace and check in to make sure she understood what was being said. The doctor had on bright red reading glasses and looked directly at Grace when she spoke and paused often to make sure what she said was clear to both Grace and her sister. Sometimes when an interpreter is present, healthcare providers are inclined to speak to the interpreter or another hearing person rather than the patient. Grace’s doctor was direct, yet empathic and kind.
As the doctor described what was happening in Grace’s body, she pulled out a lined pad of paper and sketched rough outlines and locations of the tumors in her lungs. After she reviewed her recommendations for treatment, she said as part of the treatment plan she would like to refer Grace to the palliative care team at the hospital.
The sisters looked confused. Grace signed. “What is palliative care?
The doctor answered: “Palliative care is a specialty field of medicine, an extra layer of support. Essentially you would have a whole team of experts to provide extra care for you and your family while you are going through treatment for your cancer. Our palliative care team here includes doctors, nurses, social workers, nutritionists, physical therapists and chaplains.”
Luz looked worried. “A chaplain? Like a priest? What does this mean? Is she going to die soon? Interpreter, please don’t interpret that. Do they come to your house? I don’t understand?”
Like Grace and her sister Luz, many of us don’t know much about palliative care. Many of us hear palliative care and panic. We think that we, or our loved one, may be imminently dying. While palliative care certainly is provided to patients whose illnesses may be life threatening, palliative care is also offered as an option for patients to help reduce suffering and enhance quality of life, while undergoing treatment for serious illness.
Palliative care services are typically provided in a hospital setting, but can be arranged for in an outpatient setting, long term care facility or at home. Those working in palliative care specialize in supporting the whole patient. Palliative care providers can:
- Help navigate the complex health care system
- Discuss prognosis and treatment plan options and changes
- Offer resources for spiritual and emotional support
- Develop respite support for families or caregivers
- Offer resources to manage symptoms such as anxiety, depression, sleep problems, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, shortness of breath and pain
- Arrange for nutritional counseling, physical therapy, occupational therapy, massage therapy or other integrative medicine services
Depending on the individual patient’s needs, she or he may need consistent, long-term support throughout their treatment. In other cases, the patient may use palliative care periodically or for a short term. If you, or a loved one have been recently diagnosed with lung cancer, you don’t have to wait until you are experiencing symptoms to ask for and receive palliative care.
Palliative care professionals are a resource to help you and your family live most optimally while on this journey with lung cancer. The lung cancer journey takes us on roads that we are not familiar with, and we are asked to make decisions that requires expertise and extra care. In addition to your provider, palliative care can offer you an extra layer of support during a most challenging time. Speak with your provider about how to set up palliative care and check with your insurance carrier about your palliative care options.
To learn more about palliative care or find a provider in your area, go to: getpalliativecare.org