Palliative Care

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Rural Doctor Launches Start-Up to Ease Pain of Dying Patients

Palliative medicine physician Michael Fratkin gets off a plane after visiting a patient on the Hoopa Valley Native American reservation. He wants to launch a start-up to support this kind of work. (April Dembosky/KQED)

Palliative medicine physician Michael Fratkin gets off a plane after visiting a patient on the Hoopa Valley Native American reservation. He wants to launch a start-up to support this kind of work. (April Dembosky/KQED)

This isn’t Michael Fratkin’s typical commute.

“It’s an old plane. Her name’s ‘Thumper,’” says pilot Mark Harris, as he revs the engine of the tiny 1957 Cessna 182. “Clear prop!”

“After the bad news, but before death, there’s a lot to be done.”    

It’s a 30 minute flight from our starting point in Eureka to the Hoopa Valley Native American reservation where Dr. Fratkin’s going to visit a man named Paul James. He’s dying of liver cancer.

“A good number of patients in my practice are cared for in communities that have no access to hospice services,” Fratkin says, shouting over the voices on the plane’s intercom.

Fratkin is a palliative medicine physician. He’s the guy who comes in when the cancer doctors first deliver a serious diagnosis. Continue reading

Living With (Not Fighting) Terminal Cancer

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in the health AGEnda blog. On the day the FDA revoked its approval of Avastin, Ms. Berman’s perspective is particularly insightful.

Amy Berman

Amy Berman

I have been celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness month. This isn’t just because I had the good fortune to celebrate my birthday in October, but because one year after being diagnosed with a terminal illness and choosing to treat it non-aggressively, I feel great. I have less pain than I did one year ago. The shooting pains I often felt last year in my right breast have almost entirely vanished, thanks to my hormone-suppressing drugs. My lower spine—the site of metastasis—aches only occasionally, and only when I overdo it. If I get plenty of rest and fluids, eat right, and avoid standing for long periods or lifting heavy objects, I remain pain free. Although I may take a few more breaks than I used to or find myself more tired at night, I can still fill each day with meaningful activities, just as I always have.

I can honestly say that this has been the best year of my life, both personally and professionally.
I have been able to spend quality time with my family, while taking advantage of numerous opportunities to speak and write about the importance of individuals being involved in decisions about their own health care, in addition to my ongoing work as senior program officer for the John A. Hartford Foundation. I have been more loving, more accepting of love, and I believe more effective personally and professionally than at any other point in my life.  And I feel good.

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