Paula Span in The New York Times:
Last year, when an oncologist advised that Betty Chin might benefit frompalliative care, her son Kevin balked. Mrs. Chin, a retired nurse’s aide who lives in Manhattan’s Chinatown, was undergoing treatment for a recurrence of colorectal cancer. Her family understood that radiation and chemotherapy wouldn’t cure her, but they hoped doctors could keep the cancer at bay, perhaps shrinking her tumor enough to allow surgery or simply buying her more time. Mrs. Chin, 84, was in pain, fatigued and depressed. The radiation had led to diarrhea, and she needed a urinary catheter; her chemotherapy drugs caused nausea, vomiting and appetite loss. Palliative care, which focuses on relieving the discomfort and distress of serious illness, might have helped. But Mr. Chin, 50, his mother’s primary caregiver, initially resisted the suggestion.
“The word ‘palliative,’ I thought of it as synonymous with hospice,” he said, echoing a common misperception. “I didn’t want to face that possibility. I didn’t think it was time yet.” In the ensuing months, however, two more physicians recommended palliative care, so the Chins agreed to see the team at Mount Sinai Hospital. They have become converts. “It was quite a relief,” Mr. Chin said. “Our doctor listened to everything: the pain, the catheter, the vomiting, the tiredness. You can’t bring up issues like this with an oncologist.” Multiple prescriptions have made his mother more comfortable. A social worker helps the family grapple with home care schedules and insurance. Mr. Chin, who frequently translates for his Cantonese-speaking mother, can call nurses with questions at any hour. Challenges remain — Mrs. Chin still isn’t eating much — but her son now wishes the family had agreed to palliative care earlier.