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Serious Illness

Support for those living with serious illness

At BCH, our goal is to support you or your loved ones in managing serious illness better by using palliative care, which focuses on communication, understanding your goals for your health care and finding ways for you to be able to enjoy your life. You can receive palliative care in addition to care intended to cure your illness.

If you'd like to learn more about serious illness care at BCH, please email

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is specialized medical care for those with serious illness. No matter the diagnosis, this type of care provides patients with relief from symptoms, pain, and stress. The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for both you and those you love. A team of doctors, nurses and other experts provide palliative care.

Palliative care is appropriate at any age, at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided together with curative treatment. It is for people of all races, ethnicities, religions, or financial status. It's about keeping you at the center of care and making sure the plan of care and the way it's given is tailored to meet your needs.

Who is on a palliative care team?

Your serious illness/palliative care team includes health care professionals who work together to understand your goals for care and is aware of how the team will contribute to help meet those goals. The team may include:

  • Doctor (physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants)
  • Registered nurses
  • Social workers
  • Chaplains

A palliative care team members might be part of:

  • Clinics
  • Cancer clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Palliative Care and Hospice organizations
  • Other organizations in the community, such as rural health organizations

What is serious illness?

A serious illness or health condition is one which negatively impacts your life over time and may even lead to end of life.

Serious illness often comes with:

  • Difficult symptoms
  • Challenging treatments
  • Complex input from a number of doctors
  • Stress on you
  • Stress on the people who help care for you
  • Doctors who may not be coordinating your care
  • Care in different settings and with different doctors
  • Costly medicines and treatments
  • Access to and cost of food
  • More responsibilities for your loved ones

What you can do for you

Advance Care Planning is the process that allows you to make decisions about future medical care. It is a set of directions for the kind of medical care you want if you cannot communicate your wishes at some time in the future. About 50% of people will be unable to make decisions at some point in their lives. This can happen during a serious illness, after an accident, or near end-of-life. Loss of decision-making ability may be temporary or permanent.

These are some things you can do to support yourself in this time. Please visit our Advance Care Planning page to learn more.

What you can do for your loved ones

These are some things you can do to help your loved ones during this time.

  • Fill out a Medical Durable Power of Attorney (MDPOA). It a gift you can give your loved ones to make this time easier for them. They will know your wishes and who will speak for you if needed.
  • Share your values and what matters most to you with your family and doctors involved in your care decisions. See our Advanced Care Planning page for more info.
  • Let your loved ones know what you need. Do not expect others to read your mind.
  • Get information about services to support your family from your doctor.
  • People grieve differently. Let and help others to grieve as they need to, without expectations that it should be a certain way.
  • Show interest in other people and topics outside illness. It is healthier for you and makes life less stressful for others.
  • Create a notebook to help your family find your important documents, cards, numbers, and Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). These might include your:
    • Social security number
    • Health plan
    • Driver’s license
    • Computer passwords
  • Organize your legal and financial paperwork. Be sure to be clear about finances with those who need to know.
  • If you have young children at home, seek support for them. Learn how to discuss the situation with them honestly, and at a level that fits their age.

Common Questions and Concerns

Please see below for some common questions you should ask yourself, and your palliative care team, during, or to prepare for, serious illness planning.

Questions to ask yourself

Who is important to include in making decisions?

  • Do you come from a culture where each person makes their own choices? Or does your culture consist of listening to many members of your family or group? Or does an elder of the family guide most decisions?
  • Is there someone you would like to bring with you to help you talk with your doctor?
  • Make sure your doctor knows how you would like decisions made.

How much information do you want your doctor to give you about your diagnosis and care?

  • In some cultures, the family filters the medical details that the patient receives.
  • Do you prefer a family member to receive the information instead of you?
  • If so, be clear with your provider. Let them know who should be given the information.

Do you trust your doctor to make good decisions with you?

Some questions you can ask to make sure you find a doctor that respects you as a person are:

  • How would you and your team understand and respect my beliefs and values as a patient?
  • Tell me about when your team took care of a Latino, LBGTQ+, etc., patient. What did they learn? How did you support that person and their loved ones?

Are there some things you want your doctor to know about you that might be helpful in planning your care? This might have to do with your family, faith, community, or beliefs.

Are there any cultural taboos you may have about talking about illness or death? Your doctors need to understand those in order to care for you.

Common concerns you may have

If I fill out an advance care planning form, like an Advance Directive, it feels scary. It might cause me to get worse.

  • Advance care planning helps others understand your wishes if your illness gets worse. Ask yourself, would you want your loved ones to have to make difficult decisions without knowing what you would want?
  • It can really help your loved ones if you think about the kind of care you might want if your illness gets worse. If you are sick and cannot make your own decisions, your family will know what you want. This will ease their burden because they will know your wishes and be able to honor them.

I cannot pick just one person to make decisions for me. We make decisions as a family.

  • It can be hard to choose just one person to make medical decisions for you. The person you assign to make decisions for you is called your Health care Agent.
  • Colorado law requires for everyone 18 years and older to put in writing who will speak on their behalf if they need medical care and they cannot express their needs. This is called a Medical Durable Power of Attorney (MDPOA).
  • If a person does not complete a MDPOA, then the doctor must gather all interested parties.They must then decide who the best person is to make decisions for you. This can be very hard for families. It can create long-lasting resentments and conflict.
  • Choosing someone ahead of time helps everyone involved in your care support your wishes. It can also support the person you have chosen to make decisions for you.

I don’t want to take pain medicine and get addicted.

  • Talk with your doctor about your concerns. Share your worries so that you and your doctor can make the best plan to take care of your symptoms. When your symptoms are controlled, you will be able to enjoy and take care of your family.

Will the palliative care team replace the care my family members give me?

  • No. The care your family gives you will always be there. The palliative care team supports the care your family has already been giving you.
  • This team works together with your family. The team can help find more community resources you. They also may want to assist with physical, emotional, or spiritual concerns if you want. These resources will never take away the love and care that your family gives you.
  • Palliative care also provides support for your family, so they can provide the best possible care for you.
  • The palliative care team values family members and the support they give you. The team is another pair of hands to enhance your quality of life as well as that of your family.

If you'd like to learn more about serious illness care at BCH, please email