In wealthy regions of the United States, an opportunity to live high on a precipice overlooking a landscape or water is the most expensive property available. Think of the homes of Malibu overlooking the Pacific and New York City skyscraper apartments: beautiful views from the heavenly heights. But there is one city in the U.S. where the luxury of high places is oddly inverted. It’s a place where the wealthy purchased homes on the flats next to the rivers below and built funiculars to transport the working class, instead, up to their mountain top homes at the end of the workday. Why would the wealthy want to stay low and send workers to the heights? Because in Pittsburgh, the smoke and soot from local factories hung heavy in the sky. Way up high on places like Mt. Washington, there were no views to be seen because the smog obscured the landscape.
Older Pittsburgh homes usually still boast the “Pittsburgh toilet” in the basement, which was a wall-less corner of the basement that included a shower, toilet, and sink for ultra-dirty industrial workers to hose off before tramping into the “clean” parts of the house upstairs. The wealthy lived below the skyline where the air was relatively cleaner and no one in the family required a Pittsburgh toilet. Even while today the views overlooking the city from Mt. Washington are generally clear and the moneyed class has begun to build luxury homes on its heights, Pittsburgh’s air still measures an unhelpful level of particulates. Dirty air causes trouble in lungs, which speaks to the relatively high concentration of lung cancer diagnoses in the region.
Lung Cancer Has Many Causes
Of course lung cancer is caused by any number of factors such as smoking, and not simply breathing industrial air. People who suffer from lung cancer have special needs in their care at the end of life, specifically because of the way lung cancer affects among the most fundamental features of life: breathing. Lung cancer patients move from views that might take their breath away, to a disease process that robs breath away.
Those who have come to the terminal end of the disease benefit from special care specific to the kinds of suffering this kind of cancer potentially deals out. Hospice care, in particular, can help lung cancer patients manage symptoms and achieve end-of-life goals with dignity.
Hospice Care for Lung Cancer Patients
Hospice care for lung cancer patients has been irrefutably shown to provide substantial benefits. A landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Aug 2010) under the leadership of primary investigator Dr. Jennifer Temel, demonstrated that (metastatic) lung cancer patients who receive hospice and palliative care from the point of diagnosis not only depended on less-aggressive care at the end of their lives, but also enjoyed notably longer survival rates.
Lung cancer patients who received hospice and palliative care services had higher quality of life for a much longer period of time, both in terms of symptom management and mood. In short, less is more when treating lung cancer: less aggressive “curative” treatment and more compassionate care to manage symptoms and lift up personal goals at the end of life. Lung cancer is an admittedly difficult diagnosis.
A Difficult Diagnosis
Unlike some other cancers and diseases, lung cancer does not generally spell preferred outcomes for patients and their families (i.e., complete remission – in other words, a cure). Instead, lung cancer patients often face the impending challenges of uncomfortable physical symptoms and end-of-life planning. However, hospice and palliative care helps – demonstrably and dramatically so.
While some have the perception that engaging hospice and palliative care services is a sign of “giving up,” others are able to recognize that hospice and palliative care simply focuses on a different set of goals for patients. What’s more, the goals of hospice and palliative care tend to be more in line with overall patient preferences: reduced pain, time with family and friends, and opportunities to achieve final life goals.
Managing Physical Symptoms
When a hospice and palliative care team focuses on physical symptoms, the goal is not pursuit of a “cure.” Instead, the care team accepts that a cure is unlikely and that aggressive “curative” treatment may cause more physical damage and disability than dedicated symptom management. The care team’s primary goal, then, is to make patients as comfortable as possible in order to retain the highest levels of quality living. The less a patient hurts, the more likely he or she is to move about, eat, drink, and have meaningful conversations with loved ones.
Care for physical symptoms by a hospice and palliative care team, for example, includes watching lung cancer patients for signs of labored breathing, which typically happens as cancer cells invade the fluid around the lungs or when tumors grow in ways that impact the airway. Rather than “curing” the problem, the care team will drain the fluid to relieve pressure, radiate growing tumors to shrink them down, and provide additional oxygen. Patients are able to better breathe – and able to better live comfortably for a longer period of time.
Managing Emotional Symptoms
Lung cancer patients, like anyone, have trepidations about approaching the end of life. Death is admittedly frightening – both how we die and the prospects of actually being dead. Thinking about mortality can cause fear, anxiety, depression, and a host of other understandable emotions. In looking at how hospice and palliative care benefits the needs of lung cancer patients, studies demonstrate that excellent pain and symptom management reduces patient fears.
A patient who experiences compassionate care will often refuse experimental or “last-shot” attempts at a cure, often resulting in more dramatically uncomfortable side effects, opting instead for focused treatment on actual disease symptoms. Less pain often means reduced fear.
Reducing Fear and Distress
Reduced fear results in reduced emotional distress and higher quality of life. Hospice and palliative care benefits lung cancer patients by both literally and figuratively opening up space to breathe. During such a fraught time, patients can rely hospice and palliative care services to improve and extend quality of life that might not otherwise be available. Such services are not a luxury, like living high on the Malibu cliffs or on the flats by Pittsburgh’s rivers. These services are a gift of high-quality care for anyone in need toward the end of life.
Contact Harbor Light Hospice Today
For more information about how hospice care benefits patients suffering from lung cancer, please contact Harbor Light Hospice online or call one of our locations directly today.