Relieving symptoms, providing support

Palliative Care helps cancer patients live the best life possible

When it comes to coping with the challenge of a serious cancer diagnosis, Julie Shaw tells her patients, “You are the captain of this ship.”

Shaw, a nurse practitioner with St. Luke’s Palliative Care team, wants patients to know Palliative Care is all about them. “We’re the experts at what we do,” explains Shaw, “but you’re the expert on your life. What matters to us is what matters to you.”

Palliative Care specializes in the relief of the pain, symptoms and stress of serious illness such as cancer. A team of doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers and chaplains work together to improve the patient’s physical, emotional and spiritual health. Palliative Care can be provided at any stage of illness and can be given along with cancer-fighting treatment.

“We are not Hospice,” explains Shaw. “We are not about stopping aggressive therapy. In fact, while we eventually refer some patients to Hospice, we discharge others from Palliative Care because they are doing well.”

As a nurse practitioner, Shaw’s focus is on managing symptoms, either from the illness itself or as a side effect of treatment. “Especially early on, patients are anxious about chemotherapy or radiation. They worry how it will affect them. I let them know we will be very aggressive about managing their symptoms and relieving pain.”

Shaw also works with patients, their family and doctors to create a plan of care. “We don’t take over the care,” adds Shaw. “We are an extra layer of support for you and your loved ones.” That includes making sure patients understand their condition and choices for medical care, as well as helping them develop advance directives to make their wishes known.

The Palliative Care team also includes oncology-certified social workers like Kim Roberts, who provides counseling and support. She answers questions and offers guidance with difficult decisions throughout the disease process. Roberts says, “My goal is to help you and your family cope with issues related to your illness and its impact on your lives.”

Laura McClure, 48, has benefited from St. Luke’s Palliative Care in both a hospital setting and at home. McClure completed treatment for breast cancer in January 2014, only to be diagnosed with an unrelated, advanced stage of pancreatic cancer a few months later. Side effects from the aggressive treatment she received impacted McClure’s quality of life. She’s glad the Palliative Care team was there for her and her husband.

“They were very thorough in explaining things,” says McClure. “They helped with the side effects of my chemo and checked in with me to see how I was feeling. I always knew I could go to them if I had any questions.”

McClure says she’s feeling pretty good now, but it’s reassuring to know St. Luke’s Palliative Care team will be there if she needs them. With Palliative Care, patients like Laura McClure get the help they need to live the best life possible.

For more information on Palliative Care, call (319) 369-7909.

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