Season’s Grievings

Author: Sonia Malhotra, MD, MS, FAAP, and Director of Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care at University Medical Center New Orleans

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The Holiday Season is one full of celebration, joy and gathering for so many.  But for many individuals, especially those living with a serious illness, the Holiday Season can seem like more of a burden than a joy. Coordinating appointments, making sure there are enough supplies to last through days when pharmacies and stores are closed, and contacting healthcare providers are only some of the challenges those living with a serious illness have to face.

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Additionally, the Holidays often bring about stressors, anxiety and grief over the inability to travel and the loss of other abilities, the diagnosis of a serious illness, and often the loss of loved ones.

Palliative Medicine is the interdisciplinary care of patients with serious illness such as cancer, blood disorders, heart disease, neurologic disease, liver and kidney disease and advanced lung disease to name a few.

It provides this level of care in 4 areas:

  1. Pain and Symptom Management, including managing symptoms that affect the quality of life
  2. Communication about Healthcare Decisions, Plans of Care and Coordination of Care
  3. Emotional & Spiritual Support for Patients and their Caretakers
  4. Hospice, End-of-Life Decision Making and Support, and Bereavement Services

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November marked the celebration of National Hospice & Palliative Medicine month. 

However, each month in the life of our patients LIVING with serious illness brings awareness of the challenges and struggles we need to celebrate. Serious illness and Palliative Medicine are NOT about end-of-life care. Rather, Palliative Medicine and its care of the seriously ill focuses on finding ways to ensure that our patients and their caretakers are LIVING with the best quality of life they possibly can.2017-NationalHospiceMonth_Logo

So how can patients and their families survive this Holiday season with a Serious Illness?

  1. Establish Priorities: Choose the Holiday traditions and activities that have the most meaning to you. Create and prioritize activities based on your state of mind and energy level.
  2. Depend on Loved Ones to Fill In: This can be especially tough for those who like to do things independently. However, it is important to be realistic about what you will have energy to do. Ask for assistance, take assistance when it is given and be clear about your own limits.
  3. Plan Ahead: This is especially important if you have dietary restrictions while undergoing treatments. Talk to your healthcare team about rescheduling treatments that may leave you feeling under-energized during important family gatherings or traditions.
  4. Be Selective with Your Time: Do things and be with the people who energize you, not those who deplete you. Don’t feel the pressure to fulfill obligations, do the things that matter the most
  5. Acknowledge and Share Your Feelings: It is okay to feel sad, anxious and even angry. Give yourself the permission to have these feelings and share them with trusted loved ones and healthcare professionals. Use support groups and online communities as often or as little as you need.

The Holidays can be a stressful time for those living with a serious illness and those caring for a loved one with a serious illness. Keep in mind that nurturing yourself and allowing others to nurture you will help in the celebration and reflection of these times.

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