Living Well With Serious Illnesses: Angela’s Palliative Care Story

Angela James has been working since she was 15 years old. No stranger to hard work, she thrived at her job and she was in the prime of her life. She worked her way up the corporate ladder to a rewarding position as an accountant. She built a brand new house and was engaged to be married.

But things are different for Angela now. Angela has been living with a multitude of autoimmune disorders, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and Raynaud’s phenomenon.

As a result of her illnesses, Angela was forced to quit her job, and she lost her house.

“I really felt all alone,” recalled Angela. “No one truly understood what I was going through with finding out more and more that was wrong with me.”

As Angela’s physical symptoms continued to worsen, so did her emotional symptoms. “I went into a really bad depression. The pain and being sick, and the stress and everything, just brings you mentally down.”

But a year ago, Angela’s life changed, because she is part of a growing number of Americans who have found a way to live better with serious illness. She found palliative care.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life of both the patient and the family.

Angela sat down with her palliative care team at Ohio State University to discuss her goals of care.

From that very first meeting, Angela felt at ease. “I love going. It’s a warm, welcoming place,” she said. “Right when you walk in the door, everybody’s like ‘Hello, Angela.’ They know you by your name and that makes me feel welcome, not scared – just like it’s home.”

Angela’s palliative care team took the time to talk to her about what she wanted and needed in her care. They quickly realized that, like many patients, Angela didn’t just need her pain and symptoms managed; she needed a full spectrum of support so that she could live well with her illnesses.

By combining pain and symptom management with emotional and spiritual support, Angela’s palliative care team treated Angela as a whole person.

“I have a wonderful, wonderful team of OSU doctors that keep in touch with each other and I can talk to them about my pain,” Angela said. “They offer me different medicines to help me. They try to make sure that they have counseling there that is very helpful, and I do this all in one visit.”

Not only that, but Angela’s palliative care team offered support to her family, as well. “They were actually letting my mom see a counselor, too, and that helped her, too, and helped me,” Angela recalled. “And I know with the medication and the doctors and my counseling – that does give me hope.”

Angela is still living with various illnesses, but because of palliative care, she is able to live well with them. She is now more involved with her family, is able to socialize again and is looking to start volunteering with her nieces’ sports teams.

“Palliative care has given me my life back,” Angela noted. “I’m not so stressed. I know ways of dealing with things. I have only been with them for less than a year, and, you know, I’ve been dealing with my illnesses for 14 years and this is the best I’ve ever felt.”