12 Sep End of Life Care
Death isn’t easy to talk about. We can be too scared of dying ourselves to bring it up, or afraid to entertain the possibility of losing a loved one.
It’s unacceptable that Metastatic Breast Cancer still exists, and that it kills one woman every day in San Diego. Because of this, it’s important to be able to talk about dying with the people you care about.
We are the only ones who know our wishes, and by being proactive about sharing these wishes, we can die in our most dignified way possible.
So what is Metastatic Breast Cancer?
Metastatic Breast Cancer, or Stage IV breast cancer, is breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (most often the bones, lungs, liver, or brain). Currently, Metastatic Breast Cancer cannot be cured, but it can be treated with hormone therapy and chemotherapy to increase life expectancy and quality of life.
Unfortunately, treatment can stop working for people living with Metastatic Breast Cancer after a period of time (six months, a year, five years, ten years). And when it does, the side effects of treatment can outweigh the benefits. Some women stop treatment entirely once this occurs, and instead focus on care that increases their quality of life as much as possible.
Palliative care is medical care focused on increasing comfort and quality of life by treating symptoms, and not the disease itself. This type of care includes focusing in removing pain and other physical symptoms, as well as emotional and spiritual support.
Hospice is medical care focused on increasing comfort and quality of life for people at the end stages of life. Hospice goes further than palliative care, to provide total physical and emotional support for the person at the end of their life, and their loved ones. This includes: symptom control, emotional, social, and spiritual support, daily care support, and grief counseling. Hospice is not a place you go to die. It is a type of care given at home, hospice facility, or in a hospital by trained professionals, volunteers, and family members.
Talking About Dying
Hospital social workers and hospice workers can help make the conversations about dying easier, but so can you. Being vulnerable and honest with your loved ones by saying “I know I’m dying” can help remove the uncomfortability and allow for vital conversations to take place.
Your Legal Rights
You have the power to decide how you want your treatment to be handled whether or not you are able to express your wishes. If you are unable to express your wishes, you can either write an Advance Directive, have a Living Will, and/or appoint a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
Advance Directive: A legal document which explicitly states exactly where and how you want your treatment to be handled if you are unable to. This document has two parts: the Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
- Living Will: Part of the Advance Directive which lists what treatments should be given or withheld and under what circumstances. It can be very specific, or general.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: Part of the Advance Directive which lets you appoint a person to make health care decisions on your behalf if you are no longer able to do so.
Every state has its own legal requirements for Advance Directives so you should get legal advice before writing one.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please call Susan G. Komen’s Breast Care Helpline at 1-877-465-6636 or visit the available resources below.
Caregiver Action Network
Hospice Foundation of America
Komen Perspectives – Making Informed Decisions About End-Of-Life Care – The Role of Palliative Care and Hospice