By Diane E. Meier, M.D., FACP
Deborah, a 36-year-old mother of two young children, was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 years ago, and the disease has metastasized (spread) to her bones. The pain is severe, making it hard to care for her children or get to work.
Like any young mother, Deborah is determined to fight her cancer and be present for her son and daughter as they grow up. Deborah's oncologists, doctors at the top of their field, are intensely focused on controlling her cancer and identifying the chemotherapy plans that are most likely to work for her. But they have been unable to manage Deborah's pain. It had become so bad that she was unable to sleep or eat, spending much of the day curled on her side in bed. She missed a course of chemotherapy because of her pain, and she had to hire outside help to get her kids to and from school.
Deborah's long-time internist finally referred her to the palliative care team at her local hospital. They prescribed a low-dose opioid medicine and within 2 days, Deborah's pain was well controlled, she was up and around, sleeping and eating, and back to normal life with her family. She has been able to complete her latest course of chemotherapy and her oncologist feels her scans are showing a good response to the treatment.
Deborah's story is not unique. She is one of many thousands of people with cancer who have benefitted from palliative care, so that she can enjoy some normal day-to-day function and quality of life while she fights cancer.
Palliative care for any stage of disease
Palliative care, sometimes called "supportive care," is medical treatment for people with serious illness. It's most often begun by the cancer care team, and referrals to or visits with palliative care specialists may happen later. Teams of palliative care specialists typically include doctors, nurses, social workers, and other healthcare professionals who work together with the patient, their family, and their other doctors to provide an added layer of support. The team works with the patient to provide relief from the pain and other symptoms, as well as the distress of their illness, so that the patient can live as well as possible. More...