End-of-life cancer care can be an overwhelming conversation to have with a doctor or with a loved one. Many patients and their families have hundreds of questions rushing through their mind but cannot articulate their concerns amidst the rush of anxiety. In turn, many medical professionals are hesitant to overwhelm patients with too many details and words. The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) acknowledges that this may be the most difficult situation a family can face, and as such, has compiled important considerations and questions to bring to the conversation.
When to consider end-of-life care
Cancer treatment is not always effective. In some cases, patients may try several types of treatments wherein the cancer continues to grow and spread. This is often a sign that it is time to consider end-of-life care and to speak with a doctor to assess their opinions. In many cases, continuing cancer treatment will not be effective but will continue to diminish quality of life. Initiating the conversation, either as the patient or as a concerned loved one, is extremely difficult. However, asking the care team what stage the cancer is at and how much it has spread can support open communication and understanding. If the team does not provide optimistic answers, ask whether continuing treatment is the best option.
Telling your loved ones
One of the biggest fears that patients face is being faced with the task of telling their loved ones that it is time to consider end-of-life care. While the conversation will be difficult, there are ways to make it easier both on the patient and their family. First, wait until you (the patient) are ready to share the information. Some people look to discuss the news straightaway while others require time to process by themselves.
When ready to discuss, think about who you will tell. You may wish to tell only a select few people, such as your partner, or you may choose to tell your extended network. The conversation can be quite draining, and you may not want the discomfort of repeating the conversation multiple times. Similarly, think about what you will tell your loved ones. You may wish to discuss everything you’ve been told, or you may wish to only share a few details.
Who makes up an end-of-life care team?
Many health care professionals are well-trained and passionate about supporting patients with end-of-life care. While every individual will require a different combination, the team may be made up of the following:
- GP for coordinating health care, and sometimes palliative care
- A palliative care nurse
- A community nurse for at home care
- A palliative care specialist for improving quality of life
- Cancer specialists for managing symptoms
- Mental health professionals
- A spiritual care practitioner for reflecting on your life and finding meaning
- An occupational therapist for adapting your environment
- A physiotherapist for supporting mobility
- A dietitian for managing side effects such as nausea or constipation
- A speech pathologist for assisting with issues in swallowing or communication
- A social worker for supporting emotional, financial and practical issues
Discussing end-of-life care may be the most difficult conversation a family will ever have. Though it is instinctively sad and frightening, end-of-life care allows a patient to live their remaining days comfortably without the effects of treatment. For those with questions about end-of-life care, please consult your doctor.
If you’d like to support cancer research in the name of your loved one, consider a generous honor or memorial gift today. Your donation will be used to provide critical funding to NFCR’s world renowned cancer researchers and scientists. Give here.
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