Quality of Life at Any Stage of a Serious Illness Is Important
How palliative care helps patients from the point of diagnosis, through treatment, and beyond
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Kvale, MD, MSPH
Written by: Lauryn Feil
When you or someone you love is diagnosed with a life-altering illness, your first course of action is likely to find the best and most appropriate treatment possible. However, with a serious or chronic illness, such as cancer or multiple sclerosis, the illness as well as the treatment may cause side effects or discomfort that can affect your overall quality of life. Integrating a palliative care team from the point of diagnosis can help ease unwanted symptoms and maximize positive outcomes.
Palliative care focuses on optimizing the quality of life by anticipating, preventing, and managing suffering. This type of care is delivered by an interdisciplinary team that is comprised of physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and other practitioners to address the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs of patients and their families. Teams are equipped to manage symptoms, such as nausea, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and more, that patients may experience after chemotherapy and other treatments.
One important distinction to make is that palliative care is not the same as hospice or end-of-life care. UT Health Austin palliative and supportive care specialist Elizabeth Kvale, MD, MSPH, in the Livestrong Cancer Institutes says, “Palliative care is designed to help patients during and after their treatment. If your doctor refers you to a palliative care specialist, it does not mean they think you are imminently dying or have a short time to live. What it likely means is that they feel they may need help managing symptoms or guiding your care in a way that helps you as a person remain whole through that process.”
Palliative care teams work with you and your other healthcare providers to:
- Provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
- Integrate psychological and spiritual needs into your care
- Help you live as actively and as normally as possible
- Support your family members who may need guidance
- Enhance your overall quality of life
- Match your treatment options to your overall goals
- Communicate effectively to keep everyone on the same page
Many elements contribute to the quality of life for any given person. Your palliative care doctor works with you during your initial appointment to best understand your values and to determine what supportive care you may need to help you achieve your goals. “Each patient is different and comes to me with unique needs and strengths. We want to assess all of those variables and put together a plan of care to help them get through their cancer treatment and into survivorship with our support.
For more information about services offered through the Livestrong Cancer Institutes, please call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.