Palliative Care – A Beautiful Bridge Between A Life-Altering Illness and Hospice

Historically a taboo subject, palliative care is a supporting service that is available during the most vulnerable period of a patient's life. The purpose of palliative medicine is to help patients who are living with a serious illness decide what is most important for them.

Palliative care is offered for a large range of illnesses, such as cancer, heart failure, obstructive pulmonary disease, Parkinson’s disease, and more, and can help patients who have many years of life left get the best quality of life and form meaningful memories during that time.

“As a doctor, there is nothing greater than meeting someone on the scariest days of their lives and being the person who helps make it better,” said Jason R. Beckrow, DO, medical director of palliative medicine services at McLaren Greater Lansing. “You help them get through treatment, and sometimes you get to add them to long-term survivors. However, not everyone gets there, and it’s my job to help the patient decide what the best course of action is for them.”

Patient-centered care is when the patient is at the center of every decision, and that truly is the case for palliative care. This is the time to talk about what type of medical care you want and put an advance directive and durable power of attorney (DPOA) in place.

“Even if it’s years away, these are conversations we should have so the patient can make their own medical choices and live their life how they want,” said Dr. Beckrow. “If you polled America, most people would tell you they don’t want to die in a hospital or be put on life support. This is the time to create goals/wishes that are clearly identified and get the care that adds to those goals.”

Palliative care physicians are trained to be a neutral party. Whatever the patient's wishes are for their treatment plans, palliative care physicians respect them.

“I could have two oncology patients with the exact same diagnosis, and they could want very different treatments,” said Dr. Beckrow. “One may want every treatment available to give them the best chance at survivorship and the most time possible with their family. The other patient may not want to live with the side effects of cancer treatments and want to be able to go fishing one last time with their brother. I must respect both of those decisions.”

Hospice care is a subset of palliative care. It is designed to provide care when the patient is actively dying and survivorship is limited. Palliative care steps in to ensure the patient's medical wishes are met, ensure their pain is limited, and find ways to maximize the time the patients have left.

“When I was a medical student at the hospice center at St. Lawrence, just before I graduated from medical school, I had a patient whose dying wish was to decorate Easter eggs one last time with his grandkids,” said Dr. Beckrow. “On Good Friday in 2000, that was my job. I got the eggs, boiled them, and got the dye. The smile on that man's face I still remember 20 years later. That patient has passed on, but I am sure his grandkids still remember that day.”

Engaging in palliative care as soon as possible after a life-altering medical diagnosis is the best way to ensure you have the correct planning in place and you are prepared for all scenarios.

“My goal in my new role is to break down silos and help with education and working collaboratively with all staff throughout the hospital,” said Dr. Beckrow. “Is there a way we can better reach patients before they even get to a hospital setting?”

Dr. Beckrow began his tenure at Ingham Regional Medical Center (IRMC) in 1998 as a base hospital student, internal medicine resident, and subsequently an oncology fellow. He is board-certified in hospice and palliative medicine.

He practiced oncology in the Lansing area and was on the IRMC staff until 2009, when he relocated to Southwest Michigan and began his affiliation with Hospice at Home (now Caring Circle, an affiliate of Corewell Health). Dr. Beckrow has returned to McLaren Greater Lansing to provide palliative medicine services to our community.

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