Quality palliative care that provides cancer patients with much-needed support

Interventions by the palliative care unit at the Assam Medical College and Hospital in Dibrugarh help improve quality of life for terminally ill patients

In December 2020, a bright-eyed man walked into the Assam Cancer Care Foundation's Palliative Care Unit (PCU) at Dibrugarh. He was confident and happy about his achievement — he had managed to travel 80km to the PCU all by himself. What is remarkable is that such a feat would have been impossible for Bhushan Lal (name changed) even a couple of months earlier.

Nursing and ward staff sharing a lighter moment with palliative care patients

Training activities being conducted for the palliative care and medical oncology team

Bhushan Lal, a happy patient, appreciates the dedication and efforts of the palliative care team

Bhushan first showed up in tremendous pain at the Assam Medical College and Hospital (AMCH) in Dibrugarh in May 2020. The 50-year-old had been undergoing treatment at a local hospital in Doom Dooma since he was in the advanced stage of nasopharyngeal cancer (the upper part of the throat located behind the nose). However, as his condition deteriorated, he found it difficult to breathe, Bhushan had sleepless nights and was unable to move or express his plight to others. His family members begun to panic as his daily routine began to get affected. A family friend came to their rescue and referred them to the Assam Cancer Care Foundation's Palliative Care Unit (PCU) at AMCH.

The PCU is one of the several interventions by the Assam Cancer Care Foundation (ACCF), a joint partnership between Tata Trusts and the Government of Assam. ACCF was set up in 2017 to create a first-of-its-kind, three-level cancer grid in the state. It is developing a network of patient-centric institutions that will deliver high-quality, standardised and affordable care closer to the patients' homes. This network is being developed as a part of a unique model known as the distributed model of cancer care, which focuses on enhanced access, affordable care, uniform high quality of care, and awareness, early detection, and palliative care.

Moving beyond medication

The goal of the palliative care team at AMCH is to create awareness, relieve suffering and to provide the best possible quality of life for terminally ill patients and their families, who undergo pain, trauma, and stress due to serious illnesses. A specially trained team of doctors and nurses work together with the patients and their caregivers to provide palliative care and extra support.

Building a rapport with the patients and their families is also crucial for sustained treatment. "The patient's trust and faith in our service quality is of vital importance to us. We continue to maintain these for all our cancer patients and caregivers in order to ensure that no one has to leave the treatment mid-way," says Dr Tanma Mahanta at AMCH's palliative care unit.

Dr Mahanta adds, "In Bhushan's case, the team evaluated his condition and prepared a treatment plan which encompassed pain management, nutritional support, anxiety management and counselling for him as well as his family. Every two weeks, his family members would come and collect the prescribed medication." Intensive counselling and proper treatment over the next couple of months boosted Bhushan's and his caregiver's morale, which helped create a positive attitude. This multi-pronged approach has worked wonders for Bhushan and just a couple of months later, he can already see and feel the change. Being able to travel all the way to the PCU alone is just one of those changes and he is pleased about the fact that his life has at last returned to some semblance of normality. And for this, he knows who is responsible. "I don't have to depend on others any more to do my daily chores. I salute the palliative care team who treated me and thank my family for supporting me during these difficult times," he says.

This story first appeared on Tata Trusts >>