When most people hear the term ‘palliative care’ they immediately think end of life. However this isn’t entirely accurate. The term palliative actually means reducing the severity or intensity of an illness.
This information, written by Elise Button (RN, PhD Nurse Researcher, Cancer Care Services, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital) and Allison Lovell (BN MHM FCHSM, Project Manager for Care at the End of Life, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital), help to debunk some of the common myths surrounding palliative care and bring clarity to the place palliative care has in the treatment plan for those living with blood cancers.
Palliative care is not end of life care. Palliative care is actually not about dying; rather it is about living as well as possible with a serious illness. While palliative care is often provided at the end of life it can also be provided at any time for a person with a life-threatening illness. The aim of palliative care is to help people with a life-threatening illness and their family to live as well as possible within the limitations of their illness.
Palliative care misconceptions
Since palliative care is focused on managing troubling symptoms and promoting quality of life, it can be introduced at any time depending on the needs of the patient and their family.
Palliative care is often introduced as people near the end of their life as it is vital they are comfortable and receive dignified care at this time.
It can also be introduced while people are receiving other treatments. People with blood cancers often experience fluctuating levels of health and can get sick very quickly. It is recommended that palliative care is introduced early to give them ample time to think about their wishes, know what resources are available, and are supported to make treatment plans that are right for them.
Being referred to a specialist palliative care services does not mean that the doctors think a person will die soon. Many people are referred when they have troubling symptoms or when they are first diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. Being referred early means they’re able to receive the best support depending on their needs.
Practical and emotional support
The focus of palliative care is on improving the quality of a person’s life by helping them to manage any physical, emotional, social, cultural or spiritual problems that result for their illness or treatment. Particular focus is placed on managing pain, nausea and other troubling symptoms. Practical and emotional support is also provided for families and carers.
Palliative care is not about stopping all treatment and can be provided alongside treatment that aims to prolong life or cure an illness. People who see specialist palliative care service teams can also receive chemotherapy, antibiotics, investigations, surgery and other treatments as needed.
The care provided is suited to the patient’s particular needs and wishes, and their family and carer’s needs. Receiving palliative care treatments and taking strong pain relief medication such as morphine does not speed up a person’s death. Palliative care treatments are given to relieve suffering and are manage carefully by the health care team.
Who provides palliative care?
Palliative care can be provided by a haematologist and the wider health care team or a general practitioner.
Often haematologists or general practitioners will seek the advice and support of a specialist palliative care service depending on a person’s needs and the resources of their family.
Where can palliative care be provided?
Where a person receives palliative care is depending on their needs, their preference, how well they can function physically and how much support is available. Specialist palliative care services can be provided in the home, hospital, out-patient department, palliative care unit or hospice, or aged care facility.
If you have any questions related to palliative care or want to know about the services that are available contact one of our Blood Cancer Support Coordinators on 1800 620 420. Alternatively talk to your haematologist or general practitioner.
You can also search the National Palliative Care Service Directory to find a service in your area at palliativecare.org.au.
Last updated on June 10th, 2020
Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.