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When cancer victims turn hope into acceptance

December 7, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
It's not unusual for long-time cancer survivors to feel hopeful. But when the time comes to move from hope to acceptance, who is there to help you?That's when palliative care, or end-of-life care, comes in.

Stan Brothers can only recall the poignant moments of the end of his wife's life.

Last year, 54-year-old Andrea Brothers died from ovarian cancer. Months of chemo had taken its toll.

"I remember being in the hospital room when she asked the doctor, 'Am I going to die?' and the doctor said yes," Brothers said.

News of Elizabeth Edwards's death Tuesday brought back those memories for Brothers. He understands what her loved ones are going through. Moving from hope to understanding when nothing more can be done.

ABC's chief health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser, captured the message most doctors try to embody.

"You eventually get to the point where, as one doctor put it, there are things that medicine can do to you, but not much that it can do for you," Besser said.

It's a doctor's job to tell a patient a trajectory of their illness, how much time is left. But ultimately, the decision to end their treatment is up to the patient.

Michelle Temblay heads the palliative care team at Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

"Palliative care is a philosophical approach to patient care that focuses on optimizing the patient's comfort, and that includes a physical, emotional and spiritual comfort," Temblay said. "

The end of life is often more difficult for loved ones than the patient. Brothers says his wife taught him to cherish every moment.

Brothers says the one advantage of knowing the end is near is that he and his wife had time to say goodbye to each other, as did relatives and friends.

He said having that time together gave his family a lot of comfort.


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