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  • Writer's pictureSharon Koay

Palliative care - what is it?

I have always associated palliative care with giving up hope. How unaware & misinformed I was. And if you are too, take just 3 minutes to read a summary of what I have learnt about palliative care so that you won't be as unaware & misinformed as I was.

"The Asian Woman" has also covered this topic recently in 2 posts on their Facebook page:

  • <Link to Video> Madam Yoke Kin shares what it's like to be living her last days, how professional palliative care helps, and the journey of embracing death.

  • <Link to Article> Founder of Charis Hospice Penang, Dr Oo Loo Chan, shares her thoughts on palliative care and the taboos, challenges, hope and acceptance of the end-of-life.

Here are the 3 misconceptions that I had, and many others may still have, about palliative care:

1) Palliative care is meant for terminal patients whose doctors/families have given up hope.

NOT TRUE. Palliative care is also appropriate for patients & families pursuing curative and life-sustaining treatments, especially if they suffer symptoms and challenges caused by advanced illness. It would act as a layer of support to help provide the best possible quality of life throughout the course of illness. And even in situations where there may no longer be hope for a cure, palliative care helps shift the focus to new goals – centred on living each moment as fully as possible.

2) Palliative care is meant for patients at the end of life.

NOT TRUE. Patients can receive palliative care at any stage of a serious illness and can be given to patients who still have years to live.

3) Palliative care is simply providing pain relief to keep the patient comfortable.

NOT TRUE. Pain from serious illness is a common reason to seek palliative care. But, palliative care also treats many other symptoms and challenges caused by advanced illness. These can include nausea, vomiting, anxiety, depression, restlessness, spiritual distress, constipation, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, insomnia, and other issues that may affect the patient’s and family’s quality of life.

Palliative care is not just physical care. It also includes emotional, social, practical and spiritual support, among other services. Personally, I am now working on an initiative called "Familiar Faces" to help the sick, the elderly and/or the bereaved to make the most of life, whether it's capturing their stories, reliving their memories or connecting with loved ones. Do WhatsApp me on +6012-474 1477 for more info on this initiative, especially if you have been kept apart from your loved ones in Penang during the travel restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

In conclusion, palliative care isn't about giving up hope. It's about living for as long and as well as possible.

Stephen Goldfine, Chief Medical Officer at Samaritan NJ once said:

“People who receive palliative care have a better quality of life — and in many cases live longer — than people with the same advanced illness who do not receive palliative care, according to scientific studies.”



Here's a common phrase used in palliative care, which I found inspiring (thanks for sharing, Dr. Oo!):

"We cannot add days to life, but we can add life to days."

If you are joyful, loving, thankful, peaceful, forgiving, and full of praise, and if you make the Lord the joy of your life, you will have a constant reason to be merry, regardless of circumstances. Your nights will be peaceful and pleasant, because your heart, soul, and mind are relaxed.

The Bible has encouragement for any hard situation a believer could find him or herself in. It should be noted though that in a fallen world, even the most cheerful of people can still develop an illness. Our ultimate hope is in Jesus Christ, the great healer who will come bringing an end to all sickness and cheerlessness (Rev 21:4).


Proverbs 17:22 (New International Version)

"A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones."

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