It pains me to write that my mother has been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. Our worst fears were realized when she got the news. I'm grateful because she's not terminal at this moment, but I know things can change quickly. So I’m already thinking about what to do when she becomes terminal and faces her end-of-life journey.
A friend of mine told me that hospice care can be a great option for people with end-stage breast cancer and other diseases that affect primarily women.
I’m curious to learn more about how Crossroads can provide care specifically to women at the end of life?
Looking for answers,
Dear Surviving Child,
Thank you for reaching out. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this difficult time with your mother’s diagnosis.
Many of the staff here at Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care have not only dealt with this in a professional manner, but also personally. We are trained to pay attention to many of the nuanced details of the disease and how they affect the whole patient – and we do everything we can to address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual impact this can have on a patient and their family.
With a stage IV breast cancer diagnosis, the cancer has moved beyond the breast, but that doesn’t mean your mom is going to die in a short time. Many patients can live up to five years after their diagnosis and live comfortably before symptoms become too overwhelming. I had a personal friend, six months after her routine mammogram, discover that she had two different types of cancer, and she was already stage IV. She lived for a year and a half after that. You still have time to enjoy life with your mother.
As your mother’s journey progresses, there is a likelihood that her symptoms will get worse. You should expect changes in diet, breathing, and skin condition. With a mastectomy, lumpectomy, and possibly reconstructive surgery, there will be wounds to care for that may include drains. Sadly, stage IV cancer can spread to the bone, lungs, and brain.
As these changes first occur, I would suggest looking into palliative care. The Crossroads palliative care program will ensure that your mother stays comfortable and manages her pain and side effects during this time, so she can continue living her day-to-day life. We will come to her home to make this transition as easy as possible for everyone. We will also coordinate with her primary care physician as well as her oncology team to allow open communication and coordination of all care.
Another thing I recommend is learning about your local cancer wellness center. Cancer wellness centers do not treat cancer, but they are a place for patients to go to have their spirits and soul lifted. There are wellness centers specifically designed for people with breast cancer, and most of them have wig rooms, massage rooms, and art therapy classes. Even with a stage I diagnosis, patients can and should go and pamper themselves. The Crossroads team can help you get in touch with a wellness center near you.
When the time is right for hospice, we want our patients to come to us early. There’s a lot of people who think hospice is for the last few days of life only, but that is far from the truth. Hospice care can actually be provided for patients with a prognosis of up to six months left to live. With hospice care, our team gets to know the whole her – the patient, the condition, the symptoms, the family, and more – so that we can help her have the best possible quality of life.
We want to make sure everyone is taken care of. With hospice care, the Crossroads bereavement team will be there to take care of the patient’s family and help the patient let go of those feelings. Because of this bereavement support, your mother will know you and others in your family will be cared for after she passes away.
When we have been told we have a terminal illness, we know there is a timeframe and that we have to talk to the people in our lives – to say our goodbyes and to put a plan in motion. Our chaplains and social workers will work with the family to develop an end-of-life plan so your mother can choose how she wants her end-of-life experience to go.
During this process, your mom will be able to address all of the key details – like if she wants to die at home or at a care center, and who will be in the room with her at her end of life. People who die suddenly don’t typically have that opportunity. It’s important, if you’re blessed with the ability, to plan for your death. It takes the burden off everyone else.
Crossroads also offers a Gift of the Day program where patients can experience the "perfect day," which is usually something special that they've always wanted. Whatever they ask for, we try to make it happen.
Recently, our Gift of the Day program included a woman who wanted to go skydiving, and our team made it happen! So, as you can see, however your mom wants to spend the end of her life, we are here to support her and you to the best of our abilities.
Debra Wagner, BSN, RN, NEO
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care
For more information on hospice eligibility requirements, give us a call at 888-564-3405.
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