Palliative care for my brother or sister

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Most people have never heard of palliative care until someone they know needs it. If your sister or brother needs it, usually they and your parent/s will consider the options and make decisions. But you may like to understand what it is and what’s going to happen next.

What is palliative care?

The focus of treatment so far has been on fighting the cancer. With palliative care, the focus will shift towards relieving your sister’s or brother’s symptoms so they can feel as happy and comfortable as possible.

Starting palliative care doesn’t necessarily mean your sister or brother is going to die soon. It does mean that their cancer can’t be cured and they are likely to die from it at some stage. It’s not about ending life early (this is euthanasia and is illegal in Australia) and it’s not about prolonging life at all costs. It’s about looking at your sister’s or brother’s physical, practical, emotional and spiritual needs to help them (and your family) make the most of the life they have left, however long that is. Don’t count the days, they say, make the days count.

Being referred to palliative care will most likely be a really tough time for your sister or brother and your whole family. It’s hard to shift your focus from expecting your sister or brother to get better to accepting they probably won’t, and start dealing with new people and a new system. Your sister or brother can receive palliative care at home, in hospital, or in a special hospice. The decision will depend on factors like the type of care they need, where you live and what your family feels comfortable with.

But it looks like they are getting better?

Often when cancer treatments are stopped and palliative care begins, people start to look a bit better – your sister’s or brother’s hair might start to grow back and they may even have more energy. The treatments probably made them quite weak and ill so when they are stopped, their body starts to recover from the side effects. But unfortunately, the cancer is still there.

There will likely be some good days and some bad days. Take it day by day and, if you can, try to get the most out of the good days together!


Get support

The palliative care team should include a social worker and/or psychologist who can help you and your family talk about your fears and feelings, connect you with support services and tell you about services to help at home. And you can contact a Canteen counsellor for a confidential chat online or by phone.

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