Cancer patients and their families suffer less when the final days are spent at home. It’s about quality of life.
Dying in a hospital or intensive care unit can cause greater physical and emotional stress for all involved. A study published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology and reported by HealthDay News, found that when people died at home, loved ones were less likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want. The study also showed that even though most cancer patients prefer to stay home, more than one-third die in the hospital and eight percent die in the intensive care unit. Overly aggressive care and treatment is not only traumatic at times, but very costly.
Death is a perfectly natural part of life, but somewhere along the way we’ve developed an unhealthy and sometimes cruel aversion to it. Whether it is cancer or something else, watching a beloved family member endure painful medical interventions is one thing when you have hope of prolonging life in a meaningful way. It’s quite another when all hope is lost.
Hospice and Palliative Care
According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, to palliate means “to make comfortable by treating a person’s symptoms from illness. The goals of palliative care are to improve the quality of a seriously ill person’s life and to support that person and their family during and after treatment.” Palliative care may be given at any time during an illness.
Hospice “focuses on relieving symptoms and supporting patients with a life expectancy of months, not years, and their families.”
Not discussing imminent death only prolongs suffering for the patient and the family, while leaving many personal emotional issues unresolved.
An advance directive is a legal document that allows you clearly state your wishes concerning medical care you would want if you have an illness from which you are unlikely to recover. You can get specific about aggressive treatments, dialysis or breathing machines, resuscitation, tube feeding, and organ or tissue donation.
You can also choose a proxy to make health-related decisions for you if you cannot do so yourself. For more information on end-of-life directives, visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Laws about advance directives and living wills vary from state-to-state. To check the laws in your state, visit Caring Connections State Advance Directives.
If you don’t have a written advance directive, make sure your family clearly understands your wishes.
End-of-life-choices have to come from a place of compassion and honesty from all parties. It’s too important to ignore. It’s a discussion we should all be having with our families… and our physicians.