CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Palliative care. Approximately six million Americans could benefit from it. But be honest - do you even know what it is? People often assume it’s the same as hospice care - but it’s not.
It’s the biggest misconceptions about palliative care.
Palliative care is the medical specialty focused on improving quality of life for people facing serious illnesses - from cancer to heart failure to dementia.
But not enough people know that. In fact, many people think it’s death sentence.
Craig Padilla, an Indian Trail businessman, was one of those people. Diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a painful bone marrow cancer two years ago, he had no idea was palliative care even was when his doctors suggested it.
Initially he balked at receiving it and looking back, it's been a long couple of years for Craig and his wife, Wendy. "I spent 10 days in the hospital thinking I had 29 months,” he recalled. “I'm making phone calls to the family, I'm bringing my kids in letting them know."
Diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2017, the Indian Trail business owner recalls the first conversation he had with his oncologist. "That's when he shared with me that it's not a death sentence. And he said, ‘Who told you you were going to die in two years’? I said, 'The internet'. And he said, 'Well, that's the first thing you need to get away from'."
He soon learned that while not curable, the painful bone marrow cancer was treatable. "It was pain that I would literally - as a grown man I would cry - because it hurt so bad," he said. "I fought the doctors a lot of the 10 days I was in the hospital and that's when Dr. Case came in with her team."
Dr. Kimberly Case, a specialist with Novant Palliative Care, was eager to help but knew a common misconception would make her job an uphill battle. "They think it's hospice. They think it means it's over, there's nothing else that can be done. But it's not true. We can help people so much."
But it was another fear that kept Craig riddled with pain during their first few visits. "I would sit in that chair that you're in and she knew that I wasn't taking my pain pills," he said. "Then I finally fessed up to her I was afraid of them."
A fear born out of a dark history with drugs. "So it's in my file,” he openly admitted. “When they open it up - you know, prior addiction to cocaine."
It’s also why Dr. Case says that gaining a patient’s trust when working with potent pain meds like opioids - is key. “That’s part of the way we set this clinic up,” she said. “We have time with people to really explain things and really help them understand this is the medication. This is how you take it. If you take it this way, it’s going to help you with your pain. You’re not going to have problems if you take it the way we direct you to.”
It took time but Dr. Case was right: Craig began to make huge strides just in time for their son's wedding last fall. "My goal - and our children's goal - was to be able to see us dance at our son's wedding,” Wendy said. “And we were able to do that. We didn't move much but we were able to dance. We used to dance all the time. It was great day!"
But the celebration was bittersweet as their nearly 30-year marriage was rocked by a second cancer diagnosis. “In early July, I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” revealed Wendy. “I’ve completed chemo - January 24th was my last one.”
And if you're wondering, it's their deep, abiding faith that keeps them smiling despite Craig's incurable cancer and the sobering reason why Wendy wears her Titleist toboggan. "It's all in God's hands,” she said. “I mean, truly it's in God's hands and we know he's going to get this through - get us through.” “He's gotta a plan for us,” said Craig, nodding his head in agreement. “Somebody's going to need our story. And we'll get through this. We'll get through it with a smile and a good attitude and we'll ask God what's next."
Wendy came through her surgery with no problems and started 30 rounds of radiation a short time later. She has seven rounds left and said she looks forward to being back on the links with Craig by July.
To learn more about Novant Health Palliative Care, go here.