What Is Palliative Care?

Updated: Mar 19

By Madhumitha Sabhanayagam

When we grow a plant, there are a number of factors that we have to ensure are in place to make sure that the plant grows well. It needs sun, water, the right type of soil and according to my dad, some loving words once in a while. ( He swears it has an effect on them!) . And when the plant falls ill, we tend to adjust these factors- maybe it needs more sunlight or maybe a dose of natural pesticide or more organic fertilizer?

Our bodies are the same, several factors play a role in our overall well- being. So, when one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, we have to take into account all the factors that affect well-being. Most of the time, we strictly pay a lot of attention or solely focus on the oncology aspect of it. Treating the disease and not the body as a whole.

Breast cancer is characterized by many different physical, emotional and psychological, psychosocial manifestations. This is where palliative care comes into play. Palliative care is what we call a holistic and all-rounded treatment option that could be offered to breast cancer patients. Palliative care is usually offered for women with advanced-stage breast cancer. The survival of women with metastatic breast cancer is often prolonged, the prevalence of the metastatic disease is high, posing a challenge for most oncology teams to deal with the manifestations of cancer that are not clinical. But it is not restricted to them. Patients are encouraged to seek palliative care early on in their treatment journey. Palliative care is not easy to administer, and it is a tedious process to embark on. But the benefits of it, are well worth efforts.

So, what exactly is palliative care?

Palliative care is the care that addresses the issues that arise due to the anticancer therapies administered to the patient. Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. Palliative care would address symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, insomnia, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, financial toxicity.

Palliative care also helps to foster better communication in family dynamics, and also with your treatment team. Adopting for palliative care would require your oncology team to either provide palliative care on their own, or they could have a palliative care team work with them. They could work in parallel or one after another. The treatment takes into accounts your needs and wants to better administer the right type of treatment for you.

What to Expect with Palliative Care

A palliative care team would first review your case from start to end. They also take the time to sit down and talk to your family. This is to make sure they understand the efforts made on the part of the caregivers and to understand the amount of involvement they can afford. It also helps to explore all of the treatment options available to you. They would set goals; clinical, emotional and physical goals, and they help you construct the path to achieving them. They would be in the loop with your oncology team throughout the entire care period.

Palliative care would help to address the gaps in your care journey. They tweak your clinical and palliative care as you progress. They will seek alternatives to medication if it causes intolerable side effects or if your insurance does not cover it. These are just some of the things they do. We have barely scratched the surface of what having palliative care entails. It focuses on the long term result and the bigger picture. The care is for you and so only tailored to benefit you the most. Take the time to research your options and invest the time to explore the option of palliative care. Advocate for yourself and utilize the services that are available out there for you.

The goal of palliative care is to treat the person as a whole and not just the disease that they have. You are so much more and so you should be treated as such.

“When it rains, look for rainbows. When it's dark, look for stars.” - anonymous

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