Caring for a loved one with a terminal cancer diagnosis can be physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. Hospice might not extend a patient’s life, but it can help provide the patient with a higher quality of life as they enter their final days. When doctors explain that remission doesn’t look like a viable possibility any longer, or a patient opts to end treatment, families must decide how they will provide the patient with proper care.

Some individuals might opt for assisted living centers or other treatment facilities while many others may choose to spend their final days or months in the comfort of their own home.

If a cancer patient in your family opts for home care, will you and your loved ones be able to provide proper care on your own? Despite having the best intentions, caring for a patient on your own without hospice assistance might not be what’s best for the patient. How can you know?

What kind of care can hospice provide?

Hospice provides comprehensive one-on-one care to make patients and caregivers as comfortable as possible during such a difficult time. Rather than only focusing on medical needs, hospice incorporates physical, emotional, and spiritual care to assist families through the end of the patient’s life and death.

Nurses and hospice caregivers will visit the patient on a regular basis just about anywhere. Most hospice providers offer on-call service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so you can be sure someone is available whenever you need them.

Hospice care for cancer patients includes a broad spectrum of services to meet the patient’s needs with utmost respect and dignity. This could include:

  • Medical treatment or medications for easing symptoms such as pain or nausea
  • Changing medical dressings and helping with basic tasks such as using the bathroom and bathing
  • Versatile care as symptoms progress or change which reduces the need for rehospitalization
  • Personal care and emotional support for both patients and caregivers
  • Education, training, and advice to guide patients and caregivers through the end-of-life process
  • Counseling, respite care, or bereavement services for caregivers

How do I know when hospice is the right choice?

You may request hospice for cancer patients after a doctor has determined the patient has a six-month prognosis or advanced-stage cancer. At this point, the doctor may administer a referral for hospice care.

In many situations, caregivers do not opt for hospice until the patient’s final few weeks or after they themselves start to feel overwhelmed. However, hospice is available as far as six-months out and can increase you and your loved ones’ quality of life. The sooner, the better.

Still, that doesn’t mean seeking hospice is an easy decision or one to take lightly. If you’re unsure about hospice, ask yourself some questions:

  • Are the patient’s symptoms progressing or changing?
  • Is the patient in a great deal of unmanageable physical or emotional pain such as anxiety or depression?
  • Is the patient having trouble breathing or using the bathroom?
  • Is the caregiver feeling overwhelmed with daily tasks or medical needs?
  • Is the caregiver unable to emotionally cope?

How do I talk about or approach hospice for cancer patients?

Whether you’re considering hospice for yourself or a loved one, talking to those around you about the decision isn’t easy.

Determine goals for the future
Patients likely want to ensure they will not be in pain without being a burden on family members. Ask loved ones what they are worried about how hospice can help provide some relief.

Listen and communicate
During such a difficult time, it isn’t uncommon for emotional changes to take place. Some bottle their thoughts up and withdraw while others might become overly expressive. Make sure you and your loved ones provide a caring heart and are willing to hear each other out.

Understand how hospice can help fulfill these wishes
Hospice shouldn’t be interpreted as giving up or surrendering control. Instead, it provides a way to meet your needs and the needs of your loved ones. The goal is to make patients and their families as comfortable as possible.

Each person’s end-of-life needs and process are different. Families and patients who decide to go ahead with hospice care frequently report higher quality of life throughout the experience than those who do not.