Palliative Care Program Improving the Quality of Life

In the quiet of the early morning, as she sipped a cup of coffee and looked out her kitchen window, Marsha P. used to think: How do I want to live the rest of my life? What do I want to accomplish? What haven’t I done that I really want to do? There was a comfort to these hypothetical questions, because Marsha, a long-term cancer survivor, was doing just fine—going to work, enjoying life in the city, spending the weekend with loved ones.

These days, though, the same questions have taken on a new urgency. After another bout with cancer and several surgeries that have left her worn out and weak, Marsha is reassessing her life’s priorities. She is doing so with the help and support of JFCS’ Palliative and End of Life Care Program, part of the agency’s Seniors At Home services.

“My death is not imminent,” says Marsha, who is in her late 50s, “and I hope to be alive for many more years. But my circumstances have changed—more pain, less mobility—so having the support of the Palliative and End of Life Care Program is vital.”

Marsha understands the program’s purpose precisely, says J. Redwing Keyssar, RN, its director. “Palliative care is about relieving suffering at any stage of an illness; it is not only about assisting people who are dying,” she says. “It’s about helping people make choices that allow for the highest possible quality of life, whether they’re managing a chronic condition, such as diabetes or osteoporosis, or dealing with a serious, perhaps life-limiting illness.”

For Marsha, the program’s services—including pain and symptom management, regular consultations with a nurse and care manager, visits with a chaplain, assistance in finding housing, and a volunteer who provides companionship and helps with tasks—have helped her emotionally as well as physically. “Talking to the palliative care staff about my grief over the changes I’ve experienced offers some respite from my suffering and allows me to remember that self-kindness is possible,” says Marsha.

While enhancing the lives of Seniors At Home clients, the Palliative and End of Life Care Program also touches their loved ones’ lives for the better. Marc S. called the program when his 85-year-old widowed father began declining sharply after years of suffering from congestive heart failure. “The program was immediately helpful to both my dad and me,” Marc says. “With caretakers on hand, he no longer was burdened with tasks of daily living that had become too hard for him, and he was able to stay in his home with consistent help almost to the very end. Seniors At Home also gave me practical information and support as I struggled to navigate the healthcare system on my father’s behalf. I think the world of the program.”

(published in Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ Outcomes newsletter, spring 2012)