By THERESA SULLIVAN BARGER
“We’re not treating this palliatively,” she remembers him saying. “It’s just to kill the cancer. We’re giving you everything to fight it with everything we’ve got.”
But while she received chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation and preventative medications, she also received palliative care. She just didn’t realize it because nobody used the term.
“It’s probably a good thing, because I would have thought I was on my way out the door,” says the Canton mother of three.
Some of the palliative or supportive care was provided through her cancer treatment providers, the Center for Cancer Care at Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington and at Yale New Haven Health’s Smilow Cancer Hospital, and some she found on her own, with mixed results.
Following her surgery, her clinical team connected her with a physical therapist to help her get her range of motion back and help with some swelling (lymphodema). She sought out a dietician friend, herself a cancer survivor, for nutritional advice. She saw a therapist to help her deal with the stress, a naturopathic physician for vitamins and a hypnotist someone recommended.
Van de Bogart’s experience is fairly typical. The medical community, cancer patients and their families routinely equate palliative care with hospice care. They’re not synonymous. While both are designed to provide support and symptom management to people with a serious illness, hospice is intended for people whose physicians have determined they have six months or less to live and who are no longer actively fighting the disease.
“They view us as the death squad,” says Dr. Henry Schneiderman, palliative care physician with St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford. “The conflation of hospice and palliative care is 103 percent of the general population and 100 percent with health care.”
Palliative Care Vs. Hospice
All of hospice is palliative care, but not all palliative care is hospice, says Colleen Mulkerin, director, palliative care, social work and spiritual care at Hartford Hospital. Palliative care, and the medical sub-specialty, palliative medicine, is specialized medical care for people living with any serious illness, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, kidney disease and diabetes, according to the Center to Advance Palliative Care. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of living with a serious illness with the goal of improving both the patient’s and family’s quality of life.
“The exciting thing about palliative care — you don’t have to accept anything or give anything up,” Mulkerin says.
Palliative care recognizes that there’s a person and a family invested in the treatment of the illness, she says. While the oncology team’s focus is on battling the cancer, the palliative care team is providing the support that the person and caregivers need from the time patients receive their diagnosis, through treatment and follow up care.
“We often get asked to assist patients and families with clarifying their goals. That can include advance care planning and symptom management,” says Dr. Laura Morrison, an attending physician at Smilow Cancer Hospital who is Yale New Haven Hospital’s director of palliative medicine education. “It’s really not at all about dying. It’s really about living the best that you can.”
While palliative care doctors may prescribe medications to help with pain, nausea and depression, the other forms of palliative care include therapeutic massage, cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, reiki, pet, art or music therapy, help with finding financial support and guidance on writing advance directives, which spell out the patient’s wishes for end-of-life medical interventions. Some cancer centers offer massage and mental health support to the patients’ caregivers, since lessening their stress helps everyone.
Studies Reveal Benefits
Multiple studies show that patients who receive palliative care live longer with a better quality of life. A study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 concluded that people with metastatic lung cancer who received early palliative care had less depression, improved quality of life and survived 2.7 months longer than those who did not receive palliative care.
According to an Institute of Medicine study published in 2014 in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, palliative care results in “a better patient experience with improved communication and less distress; better quality of care with less aggressive end-of-life care and more use of home and hospice care when appropriate; equal or even better survival; and significant cost savings,” of an average of $2,700 per person.
“When symptoms are better controlled, when patients are coping better emotionally and when people are able to make sure their treatment aligns with their goals, we know from the literature that people do better and so do their family members,” Morrison says.
Why The Misconception?
Palliative care remains misunderstood, advocates say, because it’s a fairly new specialty, and the holistic approach to patient care has been foreign to Western medicine’s more recent focus on medical specialties.
“So often, in Western medicine, we’re asked to give all control up to our medical team,” says Dr. Kathleen Mueller, medical director at the Center for Integrative Medicine at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford. “I think what we’ve lost is what we can do ourselves. What we can do is work on food, movement, relationships and stress reduction. If you can make yourself more whole going into chemo, you’re going to come out better on the other end.”
While cancer treatment facilities’ palliative care services differ somewhat in how they’re staffed and the support that’s offered, most patients are referred to palliative care by their doctors or nurses. Patients are told they can ask for support, but most don’t ask.
“I think it’s really hard to mobilize the resources if you’re not referred. You’d have to have a really skilled patient or family member,” Mueller says. “I do as many lectures as I possibly can to physicians and nurses to let them know this is available, and still I will have someone say, ‘Why didn’t I know you were here 10 years ago?'”
Even in the medical field, palliative and hospice care are linked, so many oncologists incorrectly view palliative care as end-of-life care, says Morrison. Some providers are moving toward calling it “supportive care,” she says.
MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas conducted a study that found clinicians referred patients to palliative care sooner and were less distressed about it when it was called “supportive” rather than “palliative” care.
Most subspecialists who treat serious illnesses, Schneiderman says, operate in warrior-mode doing battle against disease; some see a referral to palliative care as a defeat.
As a result, “palliative care is brought in too late. Hospice is brought in too late,” he said. “It’s always too soon until it’s too late.”
UConn Health provides palliative care, but calls it “support care” on the “Patient Resource Center” pages of its website.
“I did some research and found cancer centers, [including MD Anderson,] were moving more towards ‘supportive care,'” says Sarah Loschiavo, a nurse practitioner who serves as the gatekeeper to supportive services offered to cancer patients. “We decided that [patients] would feel more comfortable with ‘supportive care.'”
Living with the uncertainty of breast cancer is challenging for patients and their loved ones, and the added financial burden of copayments and missed work magnifies the stress.
Van de Bogart was receiving chemotherapy in the winter, which is always a challenging time for her family financially because her husband’s business is slowest during the winter months.
One day, when she was receiving an infusion, the social worker stopped by and sat with each patient, asking if there were any issues she could help with. Although Van de Bogart had rated financial concerns as only 1 out of a possible 10 on a questionnaire about sources of stress, the social worker asked her about it. She admitted that the cancer added further strain to the family’s budget.
“She ended up getting some grants from some local cancer funds,” Van de Bogart says. The social worker filled out the application forms for her, and got the family some grocery store gift cards.
“That was really helpful,” she says. “I didn’t seek her out.”
Complete Article HERE!