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Palliative Care for Lung Cancer: Consumer Perspective

Cassandra Morris was an amazing mother of three girls and a beautiful wife—always busy and taking great care of her family. Acute pain in her thoracic spine in May 2017 was the beginning of a devastating diagnostic, then treatment path.

It would see us lose her far too soon—12 months to the day of being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer on 19th June 2007. Cassywas diagnosed with EGFR lung cancer. The targeted therapies available provided some hope of stabilising the disease for a reasonable period of time. After managing the disease for around six months with Iressa, things took a catastrophic turn. Severe headaches andBack to top dizziness, just before Christmas and early in the new year, hospitalised Cassy. CT scans gave an initial all clear. However, a follow up MRI confirmed the worst brain metastasis of leptomeningeal disease. After whole-brain radiation therapy and switching targeted therapies, then switching again to combined chemotherapy and immunotherapy, Cassy was suffering immensely. Pain was becoming increasingly difficult to manage. It was discussed that palliative care may provide better options. The bone metastatic disease was severe.

At this point, Cassy was admitted to palliative care. The focus was to get her on methadone as the primary pain drug. After five days, she was released in good spirits. However, soon after, she was extremely sick and was readmitted, literally fighting for her life. She was in a coma.

The palliative care team suggested she might not wake up. They asked us what we wanted to do. I said, ‘We need to fight for her. She would want more time with our girls.’ After a week she awakened. We then learned the brain cancer had returned and she was running out of time. They gave her about a month.

The palliative care team were so supportive. The hospice was relaxed and family friendly. We stayed with Cassy often and staff even arranged for extra bedding to facilitate this. We would watch movies and family and extended family were welcome. We celebrated our daughter Kiara’s seventh birthday there. The compassion and care afforded to Cassy and us all was beautiful.

It really takes very special people to do this day in and day out. It must take a toll on people over time. The palliative care doctor also put us in touch with lung oncologists at Peter Mac so we could discuss accessing trial drugs. This request was accepted, however, sadly it was just too late.

In our last days and hours with Cassy, palliative care took such good care of her (and us). Cassy slipped back into a coma state for the last week of her life. I wanted to try and wake her up. I just knew that it was what she would want, but the doctors insisted they would not give her more cortisone and that the time had come. I was and remain conflicted about this, as I knew my wife. It was in contradiction of her spirit and her will to live. She would have wanted to be present, no matter how painful. I just wanted her to see her family and have an opportunity to speak or interact with us all one more time. To see our girls, and for them to say goodbye. Once she slipped away, we were given so much time with her. This was so important; we had just lost the centre of our world. For my children to be with her and to hold her, for me and my family. This I am very grateful for, and for the amazing support and service afforded to us during the most difficult time.


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