We originally published a post today about palliative care when we heard that Elizabeth Edwards had chosen to end cancer therapy.
Mrs. Edwards' fight with cancer -- and many other aspects of what would typically be very private personal information -- was largely played out for the public in the news and various other avenues of information. This made her death a national news story, starting Monday when, according to reports, the family issued a statement saying that doctors said further care "would be unproductive."
However, it's unclear when, or even if, Mrs. Edwards received palliative care.
Americans' fascination with celebrities means that when someone famous is diagnosed with an illness, or dies, an opportunity to deliver an educational message to millions of people presents itself. People read about brain cancer when Senator Kennedy was diagnosed with a brain tumor. News of Natasha Richardson's death was credited with saving a little girl because her parents recognized the signs of a serious head injury.
One reason, perhaps, that Americans admired Mrs. Edwards is that she faced her cancer head-on; she used her own celebrity to talk with people about cancer very frankly and to campaign for health care reform.
Perhaps Mrs. Edwards chose palliative care in the months, weeks or days leading up to today. Whether she did or not, though, her death presents the chance to tell people about the option.
"The decision to move from active cancer treatment to palliative care often allows patients to refocus on living life without focusing on their illness," says Elizabeth Kvale, M.D., of UAB's Center for Palliative and Supportive Care. "This frees patients from treatment schedules and side effects to spend important and good quality time with loved ones."
Kvale, who also is president of the Alabama affiliate of the American Alliance for Cancer Pain Initiatives (AACPI), says palliative care helps patients meet their goals and needs while still providing the best medical care to support a positive quality of life.
We can thank Elizabeth Edwards for her candor, for sharing her story to make people aware of cancer symptoms and treatments, and that while cancer might ultimately take life away it shouldn't own anyone's life.
We can also be thankful that because of a greater understanding of cancer there's greater knowledge of pain management specifically for cancer patients.