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Healing and Hope: National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

November 18, 2020

Cancer patients make informed decisions about their care when they feel empowered, encouraged, and supported – especially when those decisions lead to difficult conversations. During National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, Stephanie Broussard, MSSW, LCSW, ACHP-SW, director of palliative care and social work at Texas Oncology, discusses the importance for all patients to know their options.

Let’s start with the basics. How are hospice and palliative care different?

Palliative care is for any patient at any stage of their treatment plan for the management of symptoms. There’s a misconception that palliative care is about end-of-life care, but it’s actually about quality of life – helping patients physically, emotionally, and spiritually live well. It’s a comprehensive approach that helps to manage the symptoms that come with a serious illness. Hospice is a type of palliative care that is specific to terminal illness and end-of-life care.

There’s a misconception that palliative care is about end-of-life care, but it’s actually about quality of life – physically, emotionally, and spiritually."

Has COVID-19 changed the way Texas Oncology approaches palliative care?

Prior to the pandemic, we were considering how to expand access to palliative care for our patients. The pandemic has reinforced the need for easier access to palliative care and highlighted the need for advance care planning for all patients. We continue to encourage patients to discuss their goals and values with their physicians and families. At Texas Oncology, we continue to take a patient-centered approach that includes shared decision-making, which is a foundational component to quality palliative care.

What’s the best way to start a conversation about palliative care?

Education on what palliative care really is, is critical, but I often don’t start there when introducing the services. Palliative care focuses on improving the quality of a patient’s life during treatment, including managing physical symptoms and the emotional toll that comes with fighting cancer. Start by evaluating areas of concern or “pain points.” Once those are identified share with them how, if appropriate, palliative care can meet that need. If pain management is important, the patient’s care team needs to know that. If mental and emotional health is a priority, palliative care may help ensure that support is available. Asking how you can advocate for them when it comes to their care empowers patients to know that their voice matters. They become aware that palliative care isn’t about taking something from them but adding to their care.

What do you tell patients or their loved ones who are apprehensive about discussing hospice?

The word hospice bring a sense of fear or finality because it is associated with end-of-life care. It evokes emotions that are very valid, raw, and real. For many, the idea of death is scary. In reality, we are all dying but no one really wants to talk about it, so it is completely normal for families to have difficulty engaging with this topic.

However, discussing hospice doesn’t mean there isn’t hope, it means there is a plan in place to address the care needs of a patient and family when aggressive treatment measures are no longer an option. Utilizing hospice services allows for patients and families to have the critical support needed as one’s condition declines, ensuring that comfort and quality of life are the goal. Using hospice services provides opportunities for families to create their own narrative for a part of life where we seem to have no control.

When physicians, care teams, and families talk to patients about palliative care and hospice, they aren’t giving up. Rather, they’re saying they want to do everything in their power to ensure the patient has the support they need. When someone recommends hospice, they are not saying we stop the fight, they are suggesting we switch our opponent. Now we fight for comfort and quality living. Even though it is understandably difficult, with quality end-of-life care there are still opportunities for patients and their families to have healing and hope.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.