Palliative Care Helped Kate Get Her Pain Under Control
After completing 4 months of grueling radiation and chemotherapy, Kate was told her non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma was in remission, and she thought the worst was over. However, the worst was yet to come.
Kate’s immune system was weakened by the cancer treatment and she developed a serious infection that caused abscesses in every major joint in her body. Because of the excruciating pain, Kate, who was 22 years old and taking a break from college, was moved to the hospital's palliative care unit. "I was a little freaked out because I thought that was where you went when you were at the end of your life," she said, "but I didn't care because I was in so much pain." Kate soon learned that palliative care was not about the end of her life but rather about helping her have a future.
"Within a week, I knew I was in the right place. My pain was finally under control, and it gave me that first sign of hope."
A palliative doctor in Cleveland took over Kate’s case. "Thank God," said Kate. "She is like the captain of my ship. There are a whole host of doctors, and they all communicate and know what's going on."
Kate spent 270 days on the palliative care floor and endured 34 surgeries and infusions of powerful antibiotics, which finally rid her of the infection and abscesses. She spent holiday after holiday—as well as her 24th birthday—with the palliative care team. Kate’s supportive family visited her often, but still she faced boredom, depression, and fear.
"The palliative doctors and team were amazing. They make you comfortable and they also give you hope."
"The palliative doctors and team were amazing," said Kate. "They became my extended family and my emotional support. I'm not a really religious person, but there was a minister there and she would come to visit me almost every day. That was a very, very strong support for me. You name it, they had it: someone to sit and read a book to you or provide you with music therapy, so you can talk about and listen to music, which is an escape from all of the medical stuff."
The palliative care team taught Kate to do guided imagery, a "mind-over-matter" technique to direct her thoughts and relieve pain, which helped her recover from her surgeries. "When I did the imagery, I would ‘go’ to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, where I imagined myself sitting on a deck, feeling the breeze, and hearing the pelicans," Kate said. Two months after she was released from the hospital, her family surprised her with a vacation to the Outer Banks.
Now home, cancer-free for a year and a half, and getting stronger every day, Kate still speaks to her palliative care doctor, who works with Kate's other doctors to be sure her recovery continues. This includes a working relationship with Kate's gynecologist to try to ensure that, if she chooses to, Kate can someday have a baby.
"Palliative care is about comfort in so many ways—emotionally, spiritually, physically—while getting you through a rough patch in life," says Kate. "They make you comfortable and they also give you hope."