Things hadn’t been going so well in recent weeks. Our patient had needed to come in for treatment which helped one of their issues, but came at a great cost. Pain was made much worse for most of the day after the treatment was given. This was on top of a high background level of pain already. I suspected our patient downplayed their pain. They were well versed in putting up with significant amounts of pain. There was no questioning their toughness and strong determination.
I said to them, “anyone else would not have been able to handle what you had in the past year. Most people would’ve stopped treatments after the first two cycles, but you had more than ten cycles. I think you have stayed alive through sheer will power alone.”
We had come to the point where, “First Do No Harm,” had to be considered. The treatment we had provided had made the symptoms worse, it had increased the suffering experienced. The entire management plan needed to be reassessed, with the patient and their spouse. A meeting was scheduled for the next day.
She was still a child when we admitted her to our inpatient unit. 21 years old but she acted more like a teenager. She had been unwell for five years with bone cancer and had undergone many treatments. She had spent a lot of time in hospitals and had moved from her hometown to be closer to live in the same city as the treatment centre. In her last hospital admission, she had been troubled by a racing heartbeat and had been reviewed by heart specialists.
She was nervous on arrival at the hospice, and she wanted us to discuss any changes with her Oncologist. She had been under his care since her first treatment and she wanted him involved in any treatment decisions. We were happy to involve him and discussed our proposed changes with him. He said that he would defer to us when it came to palliative care issues as he felt we had more experience. Over the next week we built up trust with our young patient, and we were able to control her pain well enough that she could go home.
After two weeks she had become unwell with worsened breathing and ended up in the hospital. They scanned her and found cancer in her lungs had worsened. She asked if she could be readmitted to hospice and a transfer was arranged for the same evening. Medications to ease her breathing was started.
She was reviewed on the ward round the following day and was started on high-dose corticosteroids which initially helped her breathing. A few days later she asked to speak to the doctors. She said that she understood that her lungs were in bad condition, and without medication, she would die. She asked if she could stop her medications. She had discussed this with her family and they wanted to support her decisions.
She chose to stop her treatments and wanted nature to take its course. We provided symptom control medications to keep her comfortable. She died a week later.
Between the first and second admissions, she had grown up a lot. A young girl had grown up into a young woman over a few weeks. A brave young woman who took control of her situation and chose to stop active treatments, opting for comfort care only. She went out on her terms and did it her way.