Too often, fear and bad information stops people from asking their doctor about palliative care. That’s because, even if you have an idea of what this specialty can offer, you’ve likely heard some common myths about it too.
The truth is, if you’re living with a serious illness, this kind of care can transform your quality of life.
To help you understand how, HopeHealth’s experts set the record straight.
> Related: Ask about palliative care for you or a loved one.
MYTH: Palliative care is the same thing as hospice.
TRUTH: It’s a different type of care.
Hospice care is for patients who are terminally ill and who have chosen to prioritize comfort over curative measures.
Meanwhile, palliative care is an extra layer of support for anyone who’s living long-term with a serious and complex illness, including some illnesses that can be cured.
That includes David*, a 40-year-old patient with head and neck cancer. When he met HopeHealth’s team, he was in so much pain he could no longer function in his daily activities. He couldn’t be active with his kids, or look forward to the honeymoon he and his fiancée had been hoping to take.
Then his palliative care team found a way to manage his pain. It changed everything, from his family’s everyday life to their hopes for the future.
“We are here to help you live as well as possible for as long as possible, while also supporting your family’s needs,” says Jennifer M. Ritzau, MD, HopeHealth’s medical director of Palliative Care.
MYTH: Palliative care means you have to stop treatment for your illness.
TRUTH: You can continue treatment while also receiving services.
Palliative care is an add-on, not a trade-in, for any care you’re currently receiving.
For David, it actually made treatment possible. Before connecting with HopeHealth, his pain was so unbearable he couldn’t leave the house for chemotherapy.
“As a result of palliative care’s involvement, he’s able to get chemotherapy, and the chemo is now working and shrinking the tumor,” says nurse practitioner manager Kaitlin Collins, NP, ACHPN.
> Related: The ABC’s of curative, palliative and hospice care
MYTH: It only helps with symptom management.
TRUTH: Your team can help you and your family manage all aspects of living with a serious illness.
Palliative care offers many types of experts, and many types of support — for you and your family.
For example, social workers and chaplains can help your family navigate the emotional, social, spiritual and even financial demands of your illness. Physical therapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists can help you function better in your day-to-day activities.
When HopeHealth’s team connected with David, they also connected with his children. Our pediatric child life specialists are making sure they receive the age-appropriate support they need through their dad’s illness.
> Related: Music therapist eases pain for children in palliative care
MYTH: It’s only for people with cancer.
TRUTH: Palliative care can be provided for a full range of diagnoses.
Like David, many people with cancer receive palliative care. But there are lots of other conditions that qualify for and benefit from this specialty too.
Some of the most common include heart failure, COPD, and kidney and liver failure. Palliative care also supports many patients with neurologic illnesses like dementia, chronic strokes, ALS and multiple sclerosis.
Bottom line: “If you are living with a serious illness that’s impacting your quality of life, palliative care may be able to help,” says Dr. Ritzau.
MYTH: It’s a hassle because it adds more doctors to the mix.
TRUTH: Palliative care helps coordinate all of your care teams.
In addition to providing a range of services directly to you and your family, palliative care experts often act as your advocate across all of your specialists and care teams.
“One of the things that is singularly helpful for patients and loved ones is to feel like their healthcare team is on the same page,” says Dr. Ritzau. “One of the most beautiful things we can do is reinforce the same message across care teams, and help patients get the information they need to make important decisions about their health.”
MYTH: It causes patients to “give up.”
TRUTH: Palliative care helps many patients live longer, and better.
When palliative care got involved in David’s life, it made it possible for him to resume chemotherapy. It also gave him his quality of life back. Because he was no longer suffering from debilitating pain, he was able to get married, go on his honeymoon, cheer on his favorite basketball team in person, and start camping again with his kids.
“He is doing everything he can to prolong his life. And his quality of life has been significantly impacted, in the best way possible,” says Kaitlin.
> Related: Keep moving forward: palliative care and breast cancer
MYTH: Palliative care is about illness.
TRUTH: It’s about living.
For David, living well means going on his honeymoon and getting outdoors with his kids. For someone else, it might be attending a loved one’s birthday in a few months, or enjoying a quiet, pain-free night at home. Whatever your goals, palliative care brings together many types of support to help you identify and achieve them.
“We’re dedicated to helping you do the things that are most important to you, while receiving extra support to live your best quality of life,” says Dr. Ritzau. “Who wouldn’t want that extra support through a serious illness?”