Means for a Better End:
Research shows supportive care may extend and improve life for people with advanced cancer, con't
"We encourage families to talk to their oncologist about these issues early in their cancer care to alleviate the burdens of decision-making --
both for patients and families -- if a person's condition worsens," said Suzette Walker, N.P.-A.O.C.N.P., co-director of the Symptom Management &
Supportive Care Clinic. "We realize how difficult these conversations can be, but it's essential to have an open, ongoing
dialogue so that patients have the opportunity to define and redefine what's important to them as their condition changes over time."
These conversations are very important to both patients and families,
Urba said. Sometimes, patients feel the need to keep "fighting" the
cancer for family members. Families also can suffer anxiety and depression
related to treatment decisions if a patient becomes unable to make
them for himself.
By working with a team of supportive care specialists, caregivers receive assistance in helping to keep their loved ones more comfortable
as the disease progresses. Social workers are available as well to help deal with emotional concerns.
"Sometimes when we talk with families about hospice, people think
it means giving up or that they're making a decision between living and
dying. But that decision is out of their hands," Urba said. "We may not be able to control when we die, but we can decide how to live -- whether
the time we have left is 10 days or 10 years."
Communicate your wishes
Talking about end-of-life care is difficult, but it's important to make
your wishes known -- even if you don't have an incurable form of
cancer. Having honest discussions earlier in your life can lessen stress
and anxiety for both patients and families later.
- Talk to your doctor regularly about the goals of treatment. What
is the likelihood of its success? What are the risks and benefits?
Be sure to ask these questions again if your cancer evolves or your
treatment plan is revised.
- Talk with your family about your values. How do you envision
the last weeks of your life? What medical interventions would you
want? What would you decline?
- Consider a living will or an advance directive that formally spells
out your wishes about medical treatments to prolong your life.
View an example.