The term "palliative care" is often misunderstood because it is associated with end-of-life care.
In reality, palliative care provides help to people living with an incurable illness – such as metastatic breast cancer – so that they can live as fully and comfortably as possible. Palliative care means that you, your family and carers can get practical, emotional, spiritual and physical support.
Palliative care services can complement your treatment and help you manage your illness, particularly pain and mobility, so you can continue to live life the best you can. The type of support is flexible and can change depending on your needs.
Palliative care services can be helpful at all stages of the breast cancer experience.
Kate’s story: How palliative care can help you and your family
BCNA member Kate, shares her experience with palliative care service.
“I’m having palliative care now, and I’m not at the end of my life … I am teaching my family that palliative care isn’t a scary thing … It’s great. This is what I need. The more I know about it and the more information I have about it, the better equipped I will be.
Palliative care helps people live as fully and as comfortably as possible when living with a serious illness that cannot be cured, such as metastatic breast cancer. It is a family-centred model of care. It is there not just for you, but for your family and friends as well. Your family and carers can also receive practical and emotional support, as well as physical support. Many people find that support for their family is as valuable as the direct support they receive.
I always thought of it [palliative care] as something for me but hadn’t thought it was there to support my family.”
Palliative care specialists can identify and help you manage your physical symptoms, such as pain, and can also help with your emotional, spiritual and social concerns. Because palliative care is based on your individual needs, the services offered will differ for each person.
Palliative care services may include:
Many people are frightened when they hear the words "palliative care".
Some common misunderstandings of palliative care are that:
These are NOT true. When the details and benefits of palliative care are communicated well and understood, many people are much more comfortable with the support it can provide.
Your GP, breast care nurse and other health professionals can play an important role in providing palliative care, as can your family and informal carers.
If your symptoms become difficult to manage, your usual health care providers may seek advice and support from palliative care specialists.
In some cases, a short in-patient hospital stay may be needed to fine tune pain management, for instance. This can have the additional benefit of giving your family and carers time to recharge, knowing that you will be well cared for.
Palliative care is provided where you and your family want to receive the care, wherever possible.
This may include:
The earlier you access care, the better your quality of life
Early access to palliative care can ensure that you have all the supports you need to maximise the quality of your life and your mobility for as long as possible.
Palliative care can be used to help prevent and relieve symptoms and side effects related to cancer and its treatment, such as pain, nausea and fatigue. Controlling these symptoms is an important part of treatment. You should never hesitate to tell your health care team about any pain or other symptoms you may experience.
Getting to know your palliative care team soon after the diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer can help make you feel more comfortable in seeking their support at a later time if you have symptoms that are not being well managed. You might also find it reassuring to hear about the extent of the support available to you.
At diagnosis I was given a team that included a palliative care nurse, and that really stunned me and the rest of the family. [But] in a way it helped [me] to come to terms with it. It gave me a perspective on what I have to do and achieve in the next while. The wheelchair and shower stool are strategies to manage my energy reserves in the way I want to. I use [my energy] to be with my kids, not to stand up in the shower."
Not feeling your best and needing to use health services can be distressing and stressful, so having other people who can assume roles and responsibilities and advocate on your behalf – as your palliative care team can do – can be empowering.
Your palliative care team can also help interpret your medical reports and even attend oncology appointments with you.
Planning ahead can be difficult, but once you start the conversation you may find it easier to talk about your feelings and wishes than you had expected."
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Let’s be upfront about death, dying and mortality.
Let’s be upfront about pain, side effects and palliative care.
Let’s be upfront about fear of cancer recurrence.
Let’s be upfront about advanced care planning and breast cancer.
Let’s be upfront about accessing specialised breast cancer treatment, care and support in regional and rural locations.
Let’s be Upfront about living with metastatic breast cancer
*This article does not provide medical advice and is intended for informational purposes only.
Please consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you're seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.