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Navigating Care For Cancer Patients

Friday, February 4 was World Cancer Day, an international day designed to raise awareness of cancer and promote its prevention, detection, and treatment. Many of our hospice patients in Alameda County and elsewhere are suffering from terminal cancer. Comfort and quality of life are both primary goals of hospice care for cancer patients. Navigating such care can be helped by a dedicated hospice care team, as well as the support from close friends and family.

To ensure your loved one with cancer remains comfortable throughout this time, the hospice care team and health care team will create a care plan together that details what you want in regards to staying comfortable, eating and drinking, and performing activities to the extent you are able. This plan can be updated as needed and can adjust to changing goals, says

Questions to Ask the Hospice Team

When coming up with such a plan and finding the right care team for you, here are some good questions you may want to ask:

  • How can you help with my loved one’s pain and other symptoms?
  • How will family members help with my loved one’s care? (includes feeding, bathing, medication, health monitoring, etc.)
  • Can you help us with the emotional or spiritual aspect of dying?
  • To whom should my family direct questions or concerns?
  • Can my family get respite care? (When engaging in hospice care at home, services may include respite care so your family members can have some time away to recharge, says WebMD. This break for your caretakers is essential to avoid burnout).

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 609,000 Americans will die of cancer in 2002. Anticipating end-of-life and making the right treatment decisions can be emotionally distressing for people in hospice with advanced cancer. But it also poses a challenge for their family members, oncology clinicians, and caregivers. However, failing to come up with a plan ahead of time can lead to:

  • Increased psychological distress for the patient and family.
  • Medical treatments that are mismatched with personal preferences.
  • Use of expensive, unnecessary, and burdensome health care resources that have little to no therapeutic effect.
  • More difficult and challenging bereavement process.

It’s common for oncologists and patients to delay or even avoid plans for end-of-life care until the final weeks are upon them, whether due to individual, societal, religious, or familial expectations. Good news is, these barriers can be overcome.

Dealing With Cancer Diagnosis

When patients and families find out the cancer has come back and is now in an advanced and terminal form, they must face many questions and concerns about navigating end-of-life care. It becomes a lot easier when the patient, the care team, and the family are on the same page. During this time, patients may be asked:

  • What is important to you right now?
  • Do you wish to remain as alert and comfortable as possible when going through the last stages of cancer?
  • Or do you want to stick with treatments that could prolong your life but that may bring you discomfort?

The answers can’t be assumed. Some people in cancer hospices want to explore all possible treatments, while other patients want to die in peace with no intervention at all. Others want comfort care so they can live out their lives with no pain.

When it comes to care decisions for these last stages, care plans usually involve procedures and treatments, place of hospice care, pain control and management, and even spiritual issues. In hospice, rest assured, care continues even after treatment has been halted. End-of-life care doesn’t just involve things that happen to you or your loved one in the moments before dying. Care provided in the days, weeks, and months leading up to death is what counts. This is when patients may decide to:

  • Control their symptoms and pain, and drop curative treatment.
  • Avoid a drawn-out dying process that prolongs the inevitable.
  • Retain control over what is happening to them.
  • Cause fewer financial and emotional burdens on their family members.
  • Use this time wisely to spend more time with loved ones, bridge gaps, repair relationships, and get closer to their children or spouse.

These are all highly personal decisions, and each one needs to be reflected on, thought about, and discussed between patients, families, and care teams. When patients navigating cancer know their options, they can better make tough choices for end-of-life care after a terminal diagnosis.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Here at Pathways, our teams are sensitive to the concerns, questions, insights, and requests of our patients and their families facing hospice care after a terminal cancer diagnosis. To learn more about how we handle everything and how we can help your family, contact us at 888-978-1306. Check out our Hospice FAQs or read up on some inspirational hospice stories.