Palliative care isn’t just for cancer patients. The palliative care team can support your family and caregivers as well as you during your cancer treatment. Our expert team can provide your family and caregivers:

  • A communication bridge to facilitate communication between you, your family and your treatment team;
  • Relief for the stress, worry and sadness they may be experiencing about your illness;
  • Spiritual and emotional support as they accompany you on your journey;
  • Help with your insurance, Social Security and other paperwork.

You can ask your doctor or nurse about seeking palliative care support for your family caregivers. Learn more about the palliative care options in this video:

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While pain relief is important, relief of other symptoms such as nausea, fatigue and shortness of breath also may be a part of your palliative care. You might seek palliative care for emotional, social or spiritual support, rather than for your physical pain or symptoms. Care teams include experts such as physicians, nurses, social workers and a chaplain, so that you receive the full range of palliative care options during your cancer treatment.

The palliative care team can work with you to communicate what you are feeling and experiencing to your treatment team.  Learn more about palliative care in this video:

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When you’re a cancer patient, every day matters. To ease your symptoms and stress, you may receive palliative care, if appropriate, right from the time of your diagnosis. You also can ask your doctor or nurse for your palliative care options at any point during your treatment, since palliative care can be coupled with curative treatment.

You may want to seek palliative care to help manage your pain, to receive social and emotional support or for spiritual support. Your family and caregivers also may want to seek support from our palliative care team. The team also can help you communicate with your treatment team about your pain and other symptoms, serving as a communications bridge for you.

Learn more about the palliative care options in this video:

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When you’re considering palliative care as part of your cancer treatment, consider these criteria for deciding whether it’s right for you.

  • How severe is your illness? Palliative care addresses serious or chronic diseases, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and Alzheimer’s, among many other diseases.
  • Do you need emotional, physical or spiritual support? Palliative care isn’t just for easing pain, although managing pain can be an important component of this care. You also may want to seek palliative care for emotional, social or spiritual support.
  • Does your family need support? At the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, palliative care supports your family members as well as patients during your cancer journey.

Learn more about the palliative care options in this video:

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According to experts at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, palliative care is “ease without curing.” Its focus is improving the quality of life for seriously ill patients, helping you to carry on with your daily life while you undergo treatment, and helping you tolerate medical treatments.

Palliative care includes three key approaches:
• pain and symptom management, for the full range of reactions—physical, spiritual, social and emotional--you may be having to your cancer and its treatment;
• communication to help you feel comfortable communicating with your treatment team about your pain and symptoms, and
• coordinated care, so that your palliative care works with your treatment.

Learn more about palliative care in the following video and about services offered through The Harry J. Duffey Family Patient and Family Services Program.

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If you’re a cancer patient, you should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled, according to social workers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. .  It can take months to process your application for either Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income. The Social Security Administration's eligibility screening tool is available online.

If you apply and are turned down for these benefits, you have 60 days from the date you were denied benefits to appeal the process. Use this website to learn how to file an appeal, or call your local Social Security office. You may want to consider hiring a lawyer to make the appeal, or asking a friend or family member to advocate in your behalf.

Find more useful resources in our Patient and Family Education pages.

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Supplemental Security Income guidelines are set by the federal government for all 50 states, according to social workers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Income may include your wages, Social Security benefit payments, and pensions. It also includes resources like real estate, bank accounts, cash, stocks and bonds, and food and shelter. Your total monthly income, and where you live, can help determine how much of this benefit you can receive.

Our clinical social workers are available to assist cancer patients undergoing treatment at the Kimmel Cancer Center with disability applications, loss of insurance, COBRA, disability discrimination, and other issues.

Find more useful resources in our Patient and Family Education pages.

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Social Security pays benefits for a medical condition that is expected to last for at least a year, or may result in death.  Supplemental Security Income (SSI) supports the aged, blind or disabled who have little or no income, providing cash for basics like food, clothing and shelter. According to social workers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, the federal government will use these tests to determine whether you qualify for these disability benefits as a cancer patient:

  1. Current work status, or whether you are currently working at the time of your disability;
  2. Impact of your disability on your ability to do your work;
  3. Comparing your illness to a list of common medical conditions that qualify as a disability;
  4. Determining whether you can do the work you used to do; and
  5. Determining whether you can do another job.

Your doctor will need to weigh in on whether you qualify as disabled, and a state government agency will need to review your application and may ask you for additional forms or an in-person physical exam before your status can be determined.

You can find more useful resources in our Patient and Family Education pages.

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You need a companion on your cancer journey, and you can expect your spiritual emotions to change as your cancer changes, says Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center Chaplain Rhonda Cooper. She offers these do’s and don’ts as a guide to what to ask for when you need spiritual help during your cancer treatment:

  • Don’t apologize for asking your support team to “just listen” to you.
  • Do let them know you need a companion, not a guide, on this journey.
  • Do be gentle with yourself during this difficult time.
  • Don’t feel you’ve lost hope. Borrow some hope from your support team.
  • Do be open to support from your family and friends.

Chaplain Cooper explains more in this video about spiritual care for cancer patients at the center:

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At a certain age, you might start to wonder if you should be stepping up your screening for cancer. And then you might start to wonder: what exactly is that age? And what kinds of cancer screening should I consider?

While there are some guidelines to these questions, there has to be a lot of individualized assessment when counseling patients about screening for certain cancers. Every woman’s personal health risks may vary, says Kimberly Peairs, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and clinical director of internal medicine at Green Spring Station. For a woman with a clear genetic disposition to certain cancers—such as a family history of the BRCA mutations linked to certain breast and ovarian cancers—“screening may also be recommended to start earlier than would be done with an average risk patient,” Peairs says.

The benefit of cancer screening varies on the cancer type. Most cancers become more prevalent as women get older but there are some exceptions.

Younger than 40?: You’ve got a few more years for most screenings at this age, but “cervical cancer screening is important to have done in the earlier years to establish if a patient is high risk from HPV infection,” Peairs says. “That would help determine how frequently she would need to be screened thereafter.”

In Your 40s: The most common screening question that comes up for women in their 40s is when and how often to get a mammogram, Peairs notes. The recommendations for a mammogram use vary in this decade.  Patients should be made aware of this and providers should help them decide what the right screening timeline is for each individual. “This decision will depend on a woman’s risk for breast cancer as well as their individual preferences,” Peairs says. Risks can include a family history of breast cancer as well as genetic factors. “A patient-centered conversation regarding the risks and benefits of screening in this age group is very important,” she adds. Cervical cancer screening, especially for women at high-risk for HPV infection, can continue in the 40s.

In Your 50s: Peairs recommends breast cancer screening, cervical cancer screening, and the start of colon cancer screening during this decade of life. “There are several options to discuss for colon cancer screening but presently, the gold standard is still a screening colonoscopy, with appropriate follow-up testing depending on a patient’s individual risks,” she says. Women with a long history of continued smoking may consider lung cancer screening at age 55.

In Your 60s: Breast cancer and colon cancer screening should continue, and cervical cancer screening could continue into your mid- 60s, says Peairs. Lung cancer screenings can continue in women with a risky history of smoking.

60s and Beyond?: Patients can ask their doctors about guidelines for when it might be appropriate to stop doing a colonoscopy or a mammogram, taking into account a patient’s individual risk for specific cancers. In general, Peairs says, if a patient is not likely going to be living more than five years because of age or other medical conditions, the benefits of most cancer screening is limited.

In all cases, patients should talk with their doctors about their personal risks for each type of cancer. You could be reluctant to get a mammogram or a colonoscopy, but you may change your mind after you have a thorough discussion of “the potential benefits or harms of the screening test,” Peairs says. “Ideally, the physician and the patient can identify an approach they are both comfortable with.”

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