“Palliative” – (Cambridge English dictionary) something that makes a problem seem less serious but does not solve the problem or make it disappear.
[inspired by John and Julie with love and hugs and Kati, feel free to correct my gardening metaphors. ]
If your Doctor looks upon the care they are giving you in this way, and worse, tells you this, and worse still, you believe them… you will get exactly what it says on the tin: you will feel a little more comfortable (maybe) but you won’t get better.
Like cutting the top off brambles and weeds, it looks better but they’ll be back!!
Unless you are tired of life, have made peace with your maker and done all you want or need to do, refuse it, I beg you. But I am NOT telling you to refuse medication, ongoing treatments or medical help. What I AM telling you is to ditch the title “Palliative.”
I am glad nobody has ever brandished the word at me. They could have; I know certain clinicians who have the firm belief that I am terminal, it’s just a matter of time, they have told me so (as a result I have chosen to no longer permit them see or treat me) but still, no-one has ever to my face referred to the treatment they give me as palliative.
The word palliative in its medical context is usually reserved for treatment that is not designed to treat the underlying disease. As the definition says, it is designed to help symptoms but not the underlying cause. Palliative care has quite understandably earned the reputation of being synonymous with end of life care. But in truth this is not the at all the case. There are many patients with chronic conditions who receive palliative care who are by no means terminal. Indeed, we have all been given palliative care. If you are drugged up with pain killers post operatively it is something that makes the pain much more bearable but doesn’t contribute to the success of surgery. If we are given steroids to reduce swelling in the brain, they make the headaches abate but will never get rid of the tumour that has caused the swelling. For that you must weather the surgery and radiotherapy which will treat it. Sometimes doctors irradiate bone that has a secondary tumour, not because it will cure the primary but because it is great at treating the pain caused by the secondary. If you take a simple paracetamol for the ‘flu, it is palliative. It will make you feel a little better, easing your aches and bringing down your fever but it will not cure the virus. These are all technically palliative treatments, and there is nothing wrong or worrisome about them.
The problem arises when you are told that it is all they are offering you. It gives the clear message (intended of not) that everyone has given up on you.
So, I suggest that if someone offers you palliative care first make sure exactly what they mean by this. Do they want to offer to help palliate a troublesome symptom, in which case accept gratefully, or do they want to stop all treatment aimed at combating the disease, and concentrate on ‘putting you out of your misery’, or to use the commonly deployed euphemism: ‘make you comfortable!’
I would vehemently oppose such an attitude, but let’s suppose this is really and truly all that is left in the doctor’s tool kit. All is still not lost. Let me make one thing straight, as great as they are, doctors aren’t the ones that cure you! They do their level best to help you to get better, but they only have a limited arsenal of weapons, and when they have tried them all some doctors throw in the towel and use the P-word. Others don’t give up so easily but there is always one person who will never stop combating the disease: you. Or more importantly, the ‘inner you’. Whether you feel like it or not, whether you are ‘up to it’ or nor, whether you believe you can get any better or not, your own body’s defences will keep on striving to heal your body.
But here’s the rub: your body will be scavenging for the raw materials it needs to continue its fight. Many of the medical treatments thus far will have been actively depleting these raw materials: running down your immune system, eating up precious minerals and vitamins, degrading proteins, damaging DNA. It’s like a garden that has poor soil that has been completely depleted of nutrients. No wonder you are exhausted. Some of the ‘palliative’ treatments the doctors may offer you may help a little but rarely are they designed to undo the (often necessary) damage caused by clinical therapy. Now is the time to listen to your body and pander to it…and pamper it. Find out what it needs and go all out to provide it. The surgeon may have dug out the brambles, the oncologist may have applied the Glyphosate, but unless the soil is dug, tilled, fertilised, replanted and loved, it will not grow roses.
I am already giving this type of care to myself. You don’t have to wait until some lilly-livered clinician says ‘sorry, you are ‘palliative’. And what I am doing is not palliative. It is definitive treatment that allows the true, natural healing of my body. I haven’t refused any of what I consider the real ‘palliative’ treatment, namely the surgery, radio and chemo; they are the things that have enabled me to get through to the place we can at least see the garden beneath, bought me time while my own body has dealt with the cause of the cancer. For believe me, the lumps the cancer produces are mere symptoms. You can cut them out, irradiate them, poison them with chemo, whatever you like, but the cause remains… unless you take stock of your body’s defences and begin to replenish them.
For, no matter how advanced, no matter what the success rate, no matter how cutting edge that treatment is, the clinicians will be first to admit: cure is no certainty. The cutting edge successful treatments hold the cancer at bay, getting rid of the lumps, bumps, nodes, obstructions, swelling etc; but, without true healing of whatever caused it in the first place, it remains just another chronic condition. Palliated. Many of us are content with this, and I’m not knocking that. You can live a full and active life as a cancer ‘victim’. But why do that if you can claim the complete healing that is possible. (See here and here and here)
The cause of some cancer is at least partly understood. Genetic links, environmental factors, smoking, asbestos exposure, viruses, but even these don’t get to the true root cause: you body has lost the upper edge in the fight against the disease. It may have done so because it has the genes or environment stacked against it, but look at it like this, it managed for the last 30/40/50+ years and given the right support and care it will do again. Doctors may not believe it, you may not believe it, but your body’s ‘inner self’ will never give up on that hope. The trouble is, it can only succeed if your ‘outer self’ buys into the deal and provides the correct raw materials.
As I continue to remain symptom and tumour free, The Doctors will all believe that their treatment was what caused my ‘remission’ in the end (at least they will once I exceed the statistics in terms of survival, which in my case won’t be too long) but I will know that it has been entirely due to the grace of God. I’m not going all wishywoo on you; it’s not that some famous healer laid hands on me, not that some magical prayer zapped the tumour, it’s not that some divine anointing befell me. It was simply down to things beyond my control that worked to my good (AKA God’s grace). Those things were run of the mill and very down to earth: excellent medical care, big lifestyle changes, nutrition (and excellent advice on this… thanks jenny) , support of people around me, and an unsquashable (God given) optimism and joy in the journey.
One of my favourite quotes is: “Cancer is a wake up call; when you get it, it doesn’t mean you have to die, you only have to heed the call.” The call may be different for different people, but it is heeding it that enables you to make the changes that enable your poor ailing body to make itself whole again… the way it was always meant to be.
Don’t for one minute think that I dismiss the skill, knowledge, research and medical advances that permitted me get this far. But oncologists will freely admit that the treatments they give are toxic and hard to bear. There are no magic bullets and no guarantees, other things being equal, as to who responds and who doesn’t. But the best doctors admit that they suspect there is always something ‘extra’ that makes the difference. For me that extra was nutrition, supplements, support, encouragement and faith, but lots of people I know do all of that. Are those important? Absolutely! But there is STILL more to it than all that. What I believe makes or breaks it, is my absolute faith in the knowledge that I am not in charge. Whatever I have, or don’t have, whatever I suffer or experience, whatever I find or lose, disease or health, blessings or curses, is not mine to strive for or battle against, it is all down to Grace. And I know that grace provides much more, and more completely , than anything I ever could. You see, you don’t have to strive for grace, it isn’t luck of the draw, it isn’t chance. It is there for everyone, free and abundant in all situations if only you notice it. But you have to choose to accept it.
You can do it. Your own body (by grace) knows more about kicking cancer cells out than any doctor, it just needs the resources to do it, and those resources, whatever they turn out to be, are available to all by Grace. No prescription needed, just choose to believe it.
So, returning to my garden theme, don’t give up and wait to be ‘made comfortable.’ Who wants a (not very) comfortable ride home in the back of the van, when you can be staying behind, clutching a medal for “best in show” waiting to be interviewed by Alan Titchmarch?*
Look around you, a full and healthy life is like a well-tended garden, as long as you weed, plant and fertilise it’s always there for you to enjoy…if you choose to.
Dont palliate! Cultivate!
*Kati, I realise the Chelsea metaphor doesn’t quite work as those gardens are totally planted with things grown elsewhere and torn down as soon as the crowds go home. But maybe there’s a lessons in that too… A garden is for life not just for show. You can enjoy strolling around someone else’s and get some great inspiration, but then you need to go home and set to work and learn to grow your own.
( *Kati is a good friend who, along with friend and co-worker Maggie Hughes, has produced wonderful award winning desgins at Chelsea http://www.katicromegardendesign.co.uk/aboutme.htm.
The image above is of their “get well soon” garden, and the one at the top is their ‘post card from wales’ garden. You have no idea how much work went into that overgrown garden! It usually takes years of abuse and neglect!)