A compassionate approach to enhancing the quality of life

As I walked towards the front door of my house, I could feel the warmth of the sun on my back and the cold sting of the winter wind on my face.  I felt a sense of urgency to get inside and take refuge from the all too familiar Canadian winter weather.  This day was not particularly different than any other day; except that earlier, my mother had informed me of a distant relative of ours that had been diagnosed with cancer and was given approximately six months to live.  I had never met this person before; but a feeling of sadness crept inside me.  I found myself wondering what their last moments would feel like, and how their family would be able to cope in the face of such unimaginable circumstances.  Then I began to think, when someone is given this irreversible prognosis, at what point are they given the label ‘palliative’?

On its surface, palliative care is when we treat the symptoms rather than the cause of the condition.  We’ve accepted that the outcome is a one-way trajectory, and we look to make that journey as comfortable and meaningful as possible.  I have worked in Long-Term Care as a nurse for several years, and I can tell you, that this journey begins, looks, and feels different for everyone.

While often associated with end-of-life care, palliative care is not limited to the final stages; it can be introduced at any point during an illness, including from the time of diagnosis.  One of the core tenets of palliative care is symptom management.  People grappling with serious illness frequently experience physical and emotional symptoms that can significantly impact their well-being.  Health care providers should work collaboratively with the person, their family, and other healthcare professionals to alleviate pain and enhance overall comfort.  This approach not only promotes physical relief but also contributes to an improved emotional state, creating a more supportive environment for both the person and their loved ones.

A holistic approach is another integral aspect of palliative care.  Unlike traditional medical approaches that may focus solely on treating the disease, palliative care recognizes the multifaceted nature of well-being.  It addresses not only physical symptoms but also attends to the emotional, social, and spiritual needs of individuals.  By taking a holistic approach, palliative care strives to provide comprehensive support, acknowledging the interconnectedness of various aspects of life and health.

Effective communication is a cornerstone of palliative care.  Open and honest conversations between the individual and their families are crucial for understanding preferences, goals, and values.  These discussions enable the development of personalized care plans that align with an individual’s wishes.  Clear communication fosters a sense of trust and empowerment, which in turn, enables the person to actively participate in decisions about their care.

Family involvement is a key component of palliative care.  Serious illnesses affect not only the individual but also their loved ones.  By involving family members in the care process, palliative care aims to create a supportive network that extends beyond the clinical setting, ensuring that the person’s needs are addressed in a comprehensive manner.

As I think about what lies ahead for my relative, and anyone that has been given the unimaginable prognosis of death, I find myself immersed in thoughts of how significant and personal this journey would be to any one person.  By focusing on symptom management, adopting a holistic perspective, fostering open communication, and involving families, we can only strive to enhance the quality of life for them and their loved ones.  Palliative care is a crucial component of healthcare that we hope empowers individuals to navigate their unique journey with dignity and compassion.

Associate Nurse Consultant, MCM
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