At her home in Maine, Katherine Fitzpatrick spends most of her time outside gardening and playing with her grandchildren. Typically, nothing gets in her way of spending time doing what she loves. But when she started to feel lethargic and experienced pain in her chest, she went to see her doctor, who diagnosed her with Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma (EHE) sarcoma – a rare cancer that can cause tumors to grow anywhere in the body.
After receiving her diagnosis, Katherine's pain only worsened. She began experiencing intense pain in her lungs, but imaging didn’t provide any answers. Treatment for any form of cancer takes a toll on the body, but Katherine knew this amount of pain couldn’t be normal. “The pain was unbearable”, she said.
Believing that her pain was more than a side effect of treatment or her imagination, Katherine was referred to oncologist, Paul Mathew, MD, at Tufts Medical Center. He believed her pain was real and after a biopsy of her lungs, Dr. Mathew diagnosed Katherine with a metastasis due to EHE cancer.
With her new diagnosis, Dr. Mathew recommended Katherine to the Palliative Care Program at Tufts Medical Center, where a dedicated team helped relieve her pain, anxiety symptoms and difficulty sleeping, as well as teaching her coping skills to deal with her symptoms. Tamara Vesel, MD, Chief of Palliative Care, led the team in devising a pain treatment regimen that would fit with Katherine’s other medications and pain levels. Katherine credits this regimen with helping her physically and mentally. "She is so creative with drugs and other treatments like meditation and breathing therapy,” said Katherine.
With her palliative care team anticipating her needs, it isn’t just the medicine helping Katherine’s pain. Team members are easily reachable and respond promptly to her needs. “They are really great listeners and aren’t afraid to try something new. I get treated like a princess,” she said.
While palliative care is often associated with end of life care, Katherine disagrees, “ For me, palliative care doesn’t mean end of life care, it means end of pain care," she said.
After receiving her diagnosis in 2017, Katherine wasn’t sure the pain would ever allow her to spend time with her grandchildren or garden again. Now Katherine says, “My palliative care team at Tufts Medical Center has given me my life back.”
While Katherine is still being treated for cancer, she looks forward to continuing to fight alongside her care team at Tufts Medical Center. “I’ve gotten so much personal care”, she said. “The minute I walk through those hospital doors, I feel safe."