The goal of hospice is to provide comprehensive and compassionate medical care for patients who have had treatment for their disease that has no longer been found to be effective or who have illnesses, like mesothelioma, that no longer wish to be actively treated for their disease.
Hospice Care for Mesothelioma
Hospice care is a branch of medicine that is dedicated to providing end of life care for patients who have stopped having active treatment for a medical condition, such as mesothelioma. As there is no current cure for mesothelioma, many patients will die of the disease within a few months up to a few years prior to their diagnosis of mesothelioma. They will then look into hospice care as an end of life option.
Hospice has been around for about 40 years. Rather than things like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, hospice care focuses on things like pain management, dietary counseling, the use of various medical supplies and appliances and ongoing medical, nursing, and spiritual support for the dying patient.
The average time the mesothelioma patient is expected to live is under a year. Hospice care becomes a viable option once it becomes clear that the disease is advancing and no remission is possible. Active treatment stops, and the focus changes from managing the disease to keeping the mesothelioma patient as comfortable as possible as they enter the dying process.
The process of hospice begins once the patient and his or her loved ones are told by the doctor that the mesothelioma is terminal and there will be no remission. When you choose hospice, it doesn’t mean that you are completely abandoning treatment. Rather, it means that the focus of treatment has shifted so that pain management and comfort have been chosen over aggressive treatment. The patient is treated in the kindest and most compassionate ways.
Hospice can be beneficial to both the patient and their loved ones. The stress of caring for a terminally ill loved one is lessened when hospice steps in and there is an increased focus on which things the patient needs to be allowed to die in peace. Hospice care is also known as palliative care because it is directed at comfort measures only and does not involve trying to cure the disease.
Mesothelioma Patients and Hospice
When a person has mesothelioma, many bodily systems become adversely affected. In pleural mesothelioma, the lungs and breathing are usually the greatest body system affected and shortness of breath is the most common symptom seen in hospice care for the mesothelioma.
Those who work with mesothelioma patients in hospice understand that this is a problem and know that there are specific techniques for positioning the body so that the breathing can be improved. Patients sometimes need to sit in a certain way, lie down in a certain way, or stand in a certain way that maximizes airflow so the patient doesn’t become as short of breath.
Mesothelioma patients with peritoneal mesothelioma often have a compromised digestive system. This means that getting in enough nutrition and drinking enough fluids becomes problematic. The hospice workers are able to manage this problem by customizing the patient’s meal plans so that they can get in enough fluids and nutrients to avoid being starved and dehydrated while they are dying. Just because a patient is dying doesn’t mean that the patient has to stop eating and drinking. These things continue, as they make the hospice patient comfortable and so that they have a better quality of life, even towards the end of their life.
Hygiene still needs to go on in hospice patients. The nurses and other staff members involved in the hospice care of the mesothelioma patient can help the patient maintain adequate hygiene by assisting them with things like bathing, grooming and dressing.
Because people in the latest stages of mesothelioma often experience pain, it is the goal of the staff in hospice to provide the patient with enough medication to control the pain. Many times, doctors will prescribe opioid medications like morphine, which has two main benefits — it helps the pain of mesothelioma and improves the breathing in these patients.
The hospice team can also provide the patient with alternative means of controlling the pain. Alternative medical therapies, such as biofeedback, acupuncture, acupressure and alternative medications may be used in place of opioids. The team will work with the hospice patient to determine the best way to manage the pain caused by the tumor affecting many areas of the body.
Hospice care is not just about extending physical care to the patient. Rather, hospice addresses the spiritual, emotional and social needs of the client. This can involve having the mesothelioma patient attend a support group with other hospice patients and their family. The patient could also see a hospice counselor that specializes in treating patients who are at the end of their lives.
Hospice workers are experts at end of life issues, such as funeral arrangements and the making of both an advanced directive and will that addresses the financial issues the patient may need to deal with before they die. Advanced directives can help establish that the patient does not wish to be resuscitated should their heart stop and will speak about what things the healthcare providers should do when the patient is no longer able to speak or eat on their own.
Hospice support does not end after the patient dies. Families can continue to get support around the death of their loved ones through hospice-directed spiritual programs, individual counseling for families, support groups and other bereavement services. The family has the option of continuing in hospice care even after the patient has died from their disease.
A patient with mesothelioma usually enters hospice when the doctor has determined that the patient has six months or less to live. The hospice team is contacted and meets with the family in order to define what kinds of treatments are necessary.
If you believe you have less than six months to live and feel like hospice is something you want to get involved in, you need to ask your doctor to refer you to a hospice program. Hospice can be used any time the patient feels like they need extra help after the active treatment of the disease is no longer doing its’ job.