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Improving Your Quality of Life through Palliative Care for Cancer

A cancer diagnosis can feel devastating and it can leave you uncertain about what comes next. Thinking about treatment options, side effects, and managing this disease can be overwhelming and exhausting.

During this time, it’s not just the cancer itself that needs to be treated. There are other physical, psychological, social, or spiritual needs that can come up when you have cancer, and these are equally important to address.

That’s where palliative care comes in.

Palliative care — sometimes called comfort care or supportive care — is for people with serious diseases like cancer. It helps improve your quality of life while you battle the disease.

Palliative care proactively prevents or treats symptoms and side effects, both of the disease and its treatment. You may receive this care in any setting, whether it’s in a hospital, outpatient clinic, long-term care facility, or right at home.

    5 Key Terms to Explain Palliative Care

  1. Palliative Care Specialist: Health care providers who have special training in palliative care
  2. Symptom Management: A variety of ways to prevent and treat symptoms of your cancer and side effects of your treatment
  3. Holistic Approach: A way of providing care for all of your concerns — physical, emotional, social, and spiritual
  4. Quality of Life: Your overall enjoyment of life and ability to carry out your daily activities
  5. Caregiver Support: Assistance provided to your family and loved ones as they cope with your cancer diagnosis and treatment

What Is Palliative Care — and When Do I Need It?

The way cancer affects you physically and emotionally is unique, and so are the ways in which you may address those concerns.

Palliative care can begin at any point from when you’re diagnosed until it’s no longer needed.

Some ways your palliative care team can help you include:

  • Managing physical symptoms and side effects
  • Addressing your emotions, such as anxiety and fear
  • Supporting your loved ones as they cope with your diagnosis and care for you
  • Discussing any spiritual concerns
  • Assisting with financial or insurance issues
  • Helping fill out forms, such as advance directives (legal documents that contain your end-of-life care decisions)
  • Easing your transition to the next step in your care, whether it’s continuing treatment from home or going to hospice care

Your palliative care team is separate from your oncology care team, but they work together closely to manage your care. Your palliative team includes many specially trained professionals, such as:

  • Physicians
  • Nurses and nurse practitioners
  • Registered dieticians
  • Pharmacists
  • Chaplains
  • Psychologists
  • Social workers
  • Behavioral, occupational, or speech therapists

The goal of palliative care is to maximize what’s important to you and your family. Your team will help you with immediate goals, whether it’s attending your child’s basketball game or talking with your insurance company. They’ll also assist you in long-term goals, such as finding relief from symptoms or discussing future treatment options.

Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care

Cancer is a complex disease — and so are the many types of care you can receive to address how it impacts your life. Some people confuse palliative care with hospice care, and while there are some similarities, there are some important differences between them.

Both palliative and hospice care are designed to improve your quality of life, and provide relief from cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment. They also both have teams that address your physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual needs.

Hospice care often includes palliative care as one component. However, it’s important to remember that if you receive palliative care, that does not mean you will eventually receive hospice care.

How Is Palliative Care Different from Hospice Care?

Palliative Care  Hospice Care 
Can be provided at any stage of your cancer Is provided near the end of life
Can be given at the same time as treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation Is given when there is no active treatment 
Is run by a team that is separate from your medical care team, who they communicate with regularly Is run by a team that coordinates most of your care but also communicates with your medical care team

How Palliative Care Can Help You Cope with Cancer

There are many ways in which palliative care can help you as you go through your treatment for cancer. The goal of palliative care is to provide you the support that you need to help you along your journey.

Physical Needs

Having cancer doesn’t necessarily mean you will experience pain or discomfort. However, if you do, palliative care can address it using methods such as medication or mindfulness.

Physical needs that can be addressed by your palliative care team include:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Insomnia

Emotional and Spiritual Needs

From diagnosis to treatment and beyond, there are many emotions that come with cancer. Social workers and psychologists on your palliative care team can provide you with resources to help you and your family cope with emotions like depression, anxiety, and fear.

Cancer is a life-changing diagnosis, and it can also lead you to deeply explore your faith. You may find that you’re more drawn to spiritual beliefs — or you may have a difficult time understanding why you have been diagnosed with cancer.

A palliative care specialist who focuses on religion and spirituality, such as a chaplain, can discuss these feelings, and help you explore your beliefs and values. They can work with you to find peace and acceptance that’s comfortable for you during this difficult time.

Practical Needs

While you’re battling cancer, your main focus should be on getting better. However, there are many practical realities that you’ll need to consider, such as how you’ll pay for your treatment or if you’ll return to work. Your palliative care team can help you with those concerns, including:

  • Financial issues, such as being able to afford medication
  • Insurance questions
  • Employment concerns
  • Goals of care
  • Advance directives (legal documents that contain your end-of-life care decisions)
  • Communication among loved ones and your oncology care team

Support for Caregivers

Your family and loved ones play an important role in your cancer and your treatment. They may need to take on extra responsibilities, which can be challenging while they are trying to work or keep up with household duties.

This can be stressful for your loved ones, and just like your needs, their needs may change over time. Your palliative care team is there to support your family and loved ones by helping them adapt to their changing lives and cope with your cancer diagnosis and treatment.

How You Can Access Palliative Care

When you begin cancer treatment, your oncology team may start providing palliative care to manage your symptoms and side effects — and they’ll continue to help you with these concerns as you go through treatment.

However, they will often refer you to a team of palliative care specialists who can help with problems that may be harder to manage, such as severe pain, family stress, or insurance issues.

Palliative care may be covered by private insurance or government insurance, such as Medicare. It might be considered chronic care or long-term care, and sometimes it’s included in your coverage for hospice care.

It’s important to check with your insurance company to see what they provide for palliative care. You may want to ask these questions:

  • Will they cover palliative care for cancer?
  • Do they require that palliative care is in a specific location, such as in the hospital or at home?
  • What services will they cover, such as nursing visits, social work, and spiritual care?
  • Will they cover palliative care medication costs?

Palliative Care and Your Well-Being

During your cancer treatment, you will have many medical professionals available to support you, answer questions, and provide care — and the palliative care team is an extension of that support system.

Your needs are unique, and your palliative care team is accustomed to diverse cancer symptoms, side effects, and emotions. With their resources, you can feel more comfortable as you go through cancer treatment.

Why Choose Stormont Vail

Located in Topeka, Kansas, Stormont Vail Health is a community-driven organization. It offers close to home care and with limited travel requirements, it will be easier for you to get the palliative care you need in a community you trust.

In 2018, Stormont Vail achieved Magnet designation for a third time. Magnet designation is one of the highest awards in nursing excellence and high-quality patient care. Only 9% of US hospitals have earned this recognition. The Joint Commission — with more than 50 years of accrediting hospitals in high-quality standards — has also accredited Stormont Vail Hospital.

With a team of cancer physicians and nurses that’s been recognized for excellence with the prestigious Magnet designation, Stormont Vail Health has an experienced and skilled medical team to help you manage your palliative care.

Next Steps

Make an Appointment

Palliative care is referred by your oncology team. To make an appointment at Cotton O’Neil Cancer Center, call (785) 354-5300

See a Primary Care Provider

Call (785) 270-4440 to schedule an appointment with your Stormont Vail primary care provider.

Not a Stormont Vail patient? Call (785) 270-4440 to set up your first appointment with one of our primary care providers.