Patient with Chronic Lung Cancer Becomes Hospice Caregiver

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That includes aggressive symptom control, advanced care planning and preparation for death while seeking curative and life-prolonging care, like chemotherapy. When thinking about how they would like to live or die, palliative-care patients talk with their doctors, families and society to seek answers and decisions.

"The truth is that people think about these things all the time," said Karlekar. "Having palliative care involved gives people who are already facing so many daunting issues enhanced support to face these challenges."

Family Focus

While it is important for hospice or palliative care patients to receive support and guidance, experts say a focus also must be on the family — the people left behind.

"Good hospice programs also try to provide support and comfort to the patients' caregivers," said Ashburn. "This care often needs to extend beyond death, to help the surviving spouse recover from the loss of someone they love deeply."

Stanicki said he worries about his family, and often thinks that his wife, daughter and son are in a worse position than he is.

"They're so brave," said Stanicki. "They've gotta deal with this, too. It puts them in a terrible position. Their lives are going to radically change, and it's totally out of their control."

"This whole dying thing is a big deal," he said. "You leave a hole. But you gotta go. It is what it is."

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