The final stages of cancer can be a difficult time not just for the patient but also for her loved ones. It is a time when the patient requires physical, mental, and emotional support. Though they are aware of their condition, it is difficult for most patients to come to terms with the truth; therefore end-of-life care requires special attention.
It is difficult for others to comprehend the severity of the situation, so it is important for caregivers to discuss end-of-life care beforehand.
What does end-of-life care mean for the patient?
When the healthcare team determines that cancer cannot be treated or controlled any further, the patient’s treatments and medical testing are stopped. However, it is important to remember that cancer care does not cease; instead, it continues with a focus on providing a better quality of life so that the patient is comfortable during the last few months of her life.
Medicines that are given to patients with late-stage cancer are more focused on reducing pain and symptoms rather than curing the disease. The progression of cancer is unique to every patient and so are their needs and requirements. Family and friends must discuss end-of-life care amongst themselves as well as with the healthcare provider.
Studies show that if a patient suffering from advanced cancer has discussed her end-of-life care with her healthcare provider, her stress levels decrease and she finds it easier to cope with the illness. Studies also show that patients prefer an early talk about their end-of-life care and also expect their healthcare provider to be honest and open about it.
Experts also are of the opinion that patients must make advance directives regarding end-of-life care and other preferences. At later stages, the ability to make decisions may diminish; so it is better to discuss these details with caregivers beforehand.
End-of-life care and professional help
Once the family is aware of the patient’s condition, it is upon them to take care of the patient and ensure her comfort. Love, support, and care are extremely important at this stage.
It can get tough on the caregiver. There are times when the caregiver will require professional guidance, given the extremely fragile health of the patient. The caregiver can contact the health provider for assistance.
These are some of the common signs that professional help is needed:
- When the pain does not subside even after taking pain medications
- New symptoms arise such as vomiting, nausea, restlessness, and anxiety
- Rapid weight loss and muscle wasting
- Symptoms that were previously well-controlled are now not controllable
- The patient is always uncomfortable and keeps moaning
- The patient is unable to go to the bathroom
- The patient is depressed and contemplates suicide
- The patient does not take medicines and is angry or irritated with the caregiver for no reason
- Caregiver finds it increasingly difficult to care for the patient
Providing comfort is the basic duty of the caregiver during the final days of the patient.
Some general tips for providing comfort are given below:
- Make use of foam cushions and eggshell mattresses as it makes the bed more comfortable
- Help the patient change positions frequently.
- Disorientation and confusion are common; therefore speak in a soothing calm voice. Also keep reminding the patient of the date, time, and place.
- If the patient is able to swallow, give her liquids to ease the dryness of the mouth. Also, apply lip balm or glycerin swabs to help with dry mouth.
- One of the best ways to provide comfort is by talking and giving company to the patient. Being with a loved one gives reassurance and eases the pain.
End-of-life care is extremely important for the patient. Caregivers and healthcare providers must go the extra mile to ensure that the patient is comfortable in the last days of her life.
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