Terminal Illness

Hearing that you or a loved one has a terminal (or life-limiting) illness is awful.

Many people receiving the news feel numb at first, as the shock causing their emotions to close down, and the person enters a state of denial.  In time, the reality will set in, and you will have to deal with how to live in the now and make plans for your death and those you leave behind.

What emotions can I expect to feel when diagnosed?

Whether it’s you with the terminal illness or a loved one, most people go through a similar set of emotions:

  • Shock
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Denial
  • Helplessness
  • Isolation
  • Sadness
  • Frustration
  • Relief
  • Acceptance

You may not go through all of these, you may experience them in a different sequence and you may also go back and forth between them. Each person reacts differently.

What should I ask the doctor when I receive the news?

Arriving at the doctor’s office, you are likely not expecting this devastating news and are therefore not prepared to ask the right questions.

This is normal.

Simply make another appointment to discuss your concerns and get more information.  It may help to write your questions down beforehand.

Here are some questions you might ask:

  • How soon is this going to affect me?
  • How does the illness typically progress?
  • How long will I be able to work for?
  • When should I be thinking of palliative care?
  • Are there any medications I could take to help with pain, or depression or anxiety?
  • Are there any support groups for people with my illness?
  • Can the doctor refer you to a suitable counsellor?
  • Are there any financial benefits available to help people in my position, for example, to pay for a carer?

What can I do to cope with my feelings?

You may feel overwhelmed with feelings and not know how to cope.  Even if you are a reserved person, it does help to share. Here are some ideas:

  • Talk to someone or a few people you feel comfortable with and whose insights you trust.  This could be your partner, adult child, parent, doctor, spiritual counsellor or friend.
  • Talk to someone professional, such as a bereavement counsellor.
  • Join a support group with people suffering from a similar illness or who have also received a life-limiting diagnosis.  This could even be an online group or forum; new technology means that we no longer need to meet groups in person to communicate.

What can I do to plan for my death?

Knowing you have a limited time left can also spur you on to leave your affairs clear and organised when you go, something your family will surely be grateful for.  Here are a few things you can do to plan:

  • See an Lawyer to make a will, or ensure that you are happy with the will you have already made.
  • Meet with your financial adviser to discuss your finances (debts and savings).
  • Plan ahead for the type of funeral, cremation or burial service you want so your family does not have to stress about that when you’re gone.  Think about the coffin, or cremation, the service, the speakers, music you like, who you’d like to have there etc.
  • Make sure someone you trust has all the passwords to your digital life so they can close down your accounts (bank accounts, Twitter, Facebook, email etc).
  • Write down your memories and your life history for those you leave behind.
  • Have all the important conversations with the important people in your life.