The role of purpose and hope for advanced cancer patients

22 August 2019 | Cancer Council NSW

Searching for information in the wake of hearing that you have advanced cancer can be a daunting task at the best of times. The facts and figures are out there, but there is very little that discusses the more personal and social issues that linger around the disease. To bridge this gap in available resources, Cancer Council NSW has launched its newest podcast series, The Thing About Advanced Cancer. Hosted by cancer survivor and broadcaster, Julie McCrossin, ten episodes feature interviews with both cancer experts and people with their own experience of advanced cancer and explore the practical as well as the existential issues that people may face.

Dr Megan Best is one of those cancer experts and has a palliative care research background at the University of Sydney. Megan provides insight into how people can come to terms with living with advanced cancer. In a recently released episode, Megan discusses how people find hope and purpose despite the challenges of the diagnosis. She explores what an existential crisis actually is, how it can affect people with advanced cancer, and what keeps people going when things get really tough.

“Having a sense of purpose and meaning in one’s life is extremely important for those living with advanced cancer, as well as for those who may be approaching end of life. It’s important that patients explore this concept, especially as a cancer diagnosis can limit involvement in areas of life where purpose is commonly derived, like the workplace or family duties,” said Dr Megan Best.

“When people are diagnosed with advanced cancer or when they realise their death is approaching, we know that the big questions of life start to emerge. This can include thoughts like: ‘what am I doing here?’, ‘did my life mean anything?’ ‘what happens after I die?’. These questions confront most patients and can cause extreme distress if they don’t have adequate information and support.

“I think many Australians find it very difficult to talk about death. We don’t really have any rituals around end of life to provide a space to discuss these kinds of questions. These podcasts developed by Cancer Council NSW are the beginning of a conversation to have with loved ones. Whether a patient or carer, this podcast series will help them have that difficult conversation, equipping them with the language to say what they want when they can’t find the words themselves. It will also hopefully help bring families closer during a difficult time.”

Six episodes of The Thing About Advanced Cancer are available now, with four more to be released over the coming weeks. If you know anyone who could benefit from listening, please direct them to our website: They can also download the podcasts to their phone or tablet via Apple podcasts or other podcast apps.