Two nurses help a patient hold a glowing heart.

My Palliative Care Team Saved Me

I remember when a nurse I hadn’t seen before walked into my hospital room and introduced herself as a member of the palliative care team. I looked at my mom in confusion and fear, because palliative sounded like hospice care to me. Was my team giving up on me? This is a misconception many patients have. After being educated on what palliative care means and working with these nurses, I am now incredibly grateful for and adore my palliative team.

What is palliative care?

So, what is palliative care? The World Health Organization has a fantastic description, “Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”1 Your palliative care team is there to manage your symptoms. While your surgeon and oncologist are managing your cancer, the palliative team makes sure your symptoms are under control.

My palliative team helped with my pain, insomnia, and more

My team was amazing. They visited my room every day at some point to check-in and ask questions. More importantly, they let me ask questions. These were the individuals ordering bowel medicine to “get me going” after surgery and make sure things kept going when I was on high doses of narcotic pain medication. They prescribed sleep aids when my multiple hospital stays and fear gave me inevitable insomnia.

Treating my whole person, not just my cancer

They also gave me both medical and nonmedical therapies to cope with my obviously high anxiety. They even sent a non-religious chaplain to my pre-op room to give words of encouragement and affirmation before I went into surgery. From physical therapy to get back on my feet, to compression socks to prevent lymphedema, my palliative team helped to treat my whole person, while my oncology team got my cancer under control. From the moment my palliative nurses entered my life, I felt like my mind and body were well taken care of.

Support for my mom and my husband

However, the care did not stop with just me. The nurses pulled aside my mom and my husband individually to check in with them. I think hospitals often forget that cancer caregivers go through a different, but equally difficult time just like the actual cancer patient. They connected my mom with social workers and support groups for caregivers to ensure she felt confident in helping me recover. For my husband, they offered therapist visits, financial advisors to help navigate the financial burden we were facing, and even places he could get meals delivered directly to the hospital. My family truly felt like we had guardian angels once the palliative team walked in.

My pallative care team saved my life

So, what do I mean when I say the palliative care team “saved me”? I remember on my 2nd readmit laying in my bed, staring at the ceiling, and refusing to talk to anyone. I think my brain and body had hit maximum capacity. I was in pain, afraid, and so very tired. I looked at my mom and asked if we could just stop. I was ready to just give up and live off morphine and let nature take its course. Thankfully, she went and grabbed my assigned palliative nurse. My nurse not only talked me off the cliff, but she helped me work on coping mechanisms because these feelings and this fight were not going to stop any time soon.

Palliative care is not restricted to certain stages of cancer

Palliative care is not reserved just to those who are terminal or stage IV. In the majority of hospitals, any cancer patient can request to see a palliative care nurse. They do so much more than pain management, and I highly recommend anyone fighting cancer request a visit. Having someone who is concerned with you as a person and not just your blood panel can be such a comfort.

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