Facing the Prognosis of Pancreatic Cancer
This is an overwhelming time for patients and their families, flooded with emotions and many questions. The first questions a patient asks is "How long do I have to live, how am I going to die, and will I suffer?" The answers to those questions, of course, are individual.
To maximize the value of the physician-patient conference, bring family members with you. They often assist in asking questions the patient may not be able to ask. The patient's head is spinning with the impact of the diagnosis, but other family members often have the ability to think more clearly. Take notes or even record the conversation so you can refer back later. Prepare written questions before the visit.
Many family members want to hide the diagnosis as long as possible thinking the patient will simply give up as soon as they hear the word "cancer." This is counterproductive. The patient always knows anyway and important discussions need to take place. The final year or years after a cancer diagnosis are often the most important years in a person's life. They have the opportunity to prepare themselves and their family for their death. There are pragmatic issues, as well, to deal with such as financial, inheritance, wills, giving advice to spouses as to the best way to handle the finances after their death. There is time to communicate and reconcile with family and friends, time to address spiritual issues, and to say goodbye. Patients are empowered by the ability to address and take charge of these things. This is a serious and important aspect of every individual life that should be respected.
Patients who are newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer need to be assured that they are receiving the most advanced and expert treatment available and that we will do everything possible to maximize the quality as well as quantity of their survival.
Patients should feel free to get a second opinion to be fully informed of their condition and the arsenal available to treat them. It is important for the family particularly to feel like they explored all options possible.
Patients should be encouraged to participate in clinical trials. It is the only way that the medical community can advance in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. The Elkins Pancreas Center offers many of the most promising clinical trials.