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Planning For End of Life Care as a Cancer Survivor

National Cancer Survivors Day falls on June 7 this year, an annual Celebration of Life that is held in hundreds of communities around the country and world as a tribute to those who have survived cancer and as an inspiration for those who have recently been diagnosed with the disease. It also serves as a source of support for family members and as a form of outreach within communities to raise awareness of the fact that life after cancer can be rewarding and even inspiring. Have you survived a cancer diagnosis? Do you have a loved one who has? Despite what you’ve overcome in the past, though, perhaps you or a loved one are planning end of life care in Santa Clara and elsewhere.

Nearly one half of all those diagnosed with cancer will die in the end, according to Cancer Network. It’s a cruel reality that many families face.  The cancer community is still struggling with barriers precluding the use of language of dying into the group of survivorship terminology. Placing dying and survivorship under the same umbrella is thought to be contradictory for some in the medical community, a notion that is at odds with the cancer community. Many institutions have difficulty using the term “survivor” to describe anyone under five years post-treatment — in stark contrast with most cancer advocacy groups that view survivorship as a dynamic concept that starts with the initial diagnosis and continues throughout life.

More and more attention is now given to a more expansive belief of survivorship that includes adequate palliative and hospice care, particularly during the dying process. The logical next step, they say, is to establish a more defined role for cancer survivorship advocates. The cancer community is aware that excellent end-of-life care is possible and indeed achievable. The oncology community focuses on pain management, with the cancer survivorship movement defining and implementing a more integrative approach to aggressive palliative and hospice care over the lifespan of those who are living and then dying from cancer.

Quality End of Life Care

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 606,000 Americans will die of cancer this year. Anticipating the end of life and making appropriate health care decisions about treatment is challenging and emotionally distressing for those who have advanced cancer, as well as for their families, oncology clinicians, and other caregivers. But the consequences of failure to plan for the transition to end of life could include:

  • Increased psychological distress
  • Medical treatments that do not match personal preferences.
  • Use of burdensome, expensive health care resources with little to no therapeutic benefit.
  • More difficult bereavement process.

Often times, oncologists and patients often delay or avoid altogether plans for end of life care until the final days or weeks due to a variety of factors. Those factors stem from individual, family and societal expectations, but the evidence shows that those factors aren’t barriers that can’t be overcome.

When patients learn their cancer has come back and it is now advanced, they are faced with a multitude of questions about end of life care. It’s easier to talk about these things early on so everyone is on the same page. Some of those questions posed to patients include:

  • What is important to you during this time?
  • Is it most important that you remain as alert and comfortable as possible during cancer’s last stages?
  • Is it most important to stick with those treatments that could prolong your life but that may make you feel uncomfortable?

Some want to get all possible treatments, while others want nothing at all. Some want care that keeps them comfortable only.

Care decisions for the last stages usually revolve around procedures and treatments, place of care, pain control, and spiritual issues. It’s important to note that care continues even after treatment has stopped. End-of-life care is about much more than the things that happen in the moments before dying. Care is necessary in the days, weeks, and months before death, during which time many patients opt to:

  • Have their symptoms and pain controlled.
  • Avoid a long drawn-out dying process.
  • Retain a sense of control over what happens to them.
  • Cause less financial and emotional burdens on family.
  • Use this time to get closer to loved ones.

This is a very highly personal decision, one that should be reflected on and discussed between families and care teams. Knowing options helps patients make those tough choices for end of life care after a cancer diagnosis.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We are always sensitive to the questions, insights and requests of our patients facing end of life care after a cancer diagnosis. To learn more, contact us at 888-978-1306. We invite you to view our Hospice FAQs or read more about our palliative care.