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I didn’t know what palliative care was until my brother-in-law’s cancer doctor suggested that Greg needed to be under it. What IS palliative care? It’s a specialized way of easing suffering for people with serious illness. It can provide help with depression, fatigue, breathing problems, some types of pain, etc. And the medical profession is beginning to see that it can help to prolong a person’s life.

For three years my b-i-l has been struggling with the aftermath of lung cancer and an experimental drug he was using. He’s in no pain, but be’s going through another round of chemo therapy that has left him essentially paralyzed and with massive short-term memory loss. I wasn’t sure what this palliative care would look like for him. They were told it was for depression. For the life of me I couldn’t understand how that would help Greg. He’s accepted the fact that he has a terminal illness.

But a few weeks ago Drollery and I met my sister and Greg at their house after his last round of chemo to help her get him upstairs. They have 16 stairs from the door to the living part of their home. Having not been on hand prior to this to see this process myself, I was totally stunned. It took Cindy and Drollery nearly 45 minutes to get Greg upstairs. He is, for all intents and purpose, just dead weight.

He can’t help. He tried. Sometimes he would manage to get a foot under himself and try to push up, but mostly he couldn’t. He collapsed on the next to the last step and it took another 15 minutes for them to get him from the top stair the six feet to his room and onto the bed. That was horrifying enough to watch. But what really made the deepest impression on me was the look on Greg’s face as they were pushing and pulling on him.

Quite simply, he was humiliated. Always a go-geter, a very vital man, I couldn’t begin to imagine what it all must have felt like to him.

Since then Greg has been enrolled in the Palliative Care program at the Huntsman Cancer Center in Salt Lake City, and I’m amazed at the difference it’s made in his attitude. For one thing he’s not nearly as short tempered with those who are trying to help him now. My sister was bearing the brunt of his frustration. So while nothing has changed physically for him, mentally and emotionally he’s in a much better place.

I’m bringing this up for a couple reasons. First, I just read a short article about it in the December/January issue of AARP magazine talking about how the health care system sometimes gets in the way of folks getting what they need in this area of medical care. Secondly, because it talks in the article about how palliative care is NOT limited to end-of-life issues. The truth is, as our life expectancy increases, we can all expect to experience the need for better care for serious, chronic conditions related to aging. Back pain comes to mind! Mental confusion, weakness, etc.

So if you have a chance to read up on this, please do so. We will never know when palliative care is something we might benefit from, and I have a feeling that knowing our options may end up being very important to a lot of us in the future.

For more information see Palliative Care: A Key to Living With Dignity