Common questions about dying
In this section we answer common questions about dying.
Learn more about:
- How long have I got?
- How does palliative care help?
- Who will I see for my care?
- Could complementary therapies help me?
- What does “dying well” mean?
- What is dying going to be like?
- How will I know the end is near?
- What if I feel distressed?
Knowing that you have a short time to live raises many difficult questions. Sometimes, you may not be sure if you want to know the answers. We discuss some of the common concerns you may have.
How long have I got?
The first thing some people will want to know is how long they have left to live. Others prefer not to know. It’s a very personal decision.
Knowing can help you prepare for and plan the time you have left. If you want to know, you can ask your doctor. Because everyone is different, a doctor can only ever give you an estimate (prognosis) based on what usually happens to someone in your situation. But they can’t say exactly what will happen to you.
Some doctors may sound very definite about how long you have left to live, but it is only ever an estimate. Other doctors may be hesitant in case they overestimate or underestimate the time. They will probably talk about the time in terms of days, days to weeks, weeks to months, or months to years.
Why it can be good to know
Being told you probably don’t have long to live is difficult. But having a sense of how much time may be left can give you a chance to focus on what you’d like to do.
If you live longer than the estimated time, you may feel lucky to be living beyond that time or you may feel unsettled, like you’re waiting to die.
My doctors haven’t ‘given me a date’ but I’m preparing for the day. I’m getting my affairs in order and trying to make sense of things.Agnes
Video: What is end of life?
Podcast: Living with Dying
Prof Jane Phillips, Head, School of Nursing and Professor, Centre for Healthcare Transformation, Queensland University of Technology and Emerita Professor Palliative Nursing, University of Technology Sydney, NSW; Prof Meera Agar, Palliative Care Physician, Professor of Palliative Medicine, University of Technology Sydney, IMPACCT, Sydney, NSW; Sandra Anderson, Consumer; A/Prof Megan Best, The University of Notre Dame Australia and The University of Sydney, NSW; Prof Lauren Breen, Psychologist and Discipline Lead, Psychology, Curtin University, WA; David Dawes, Manager, Spiritual Care Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rob Ferguson, Consumer; Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar, Counsellor, Psychotherapist and Social Worker, One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy, NSW; Justine Hatton, Senior Social Worker, Southern Adelaide Palliative Services, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Caitlin MacDonagh, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Palliative Care, Royal North Shore Hospital, Northern Sydney Local Health District, NSW; McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer; Palliative Care Australia; Belinda Reinhold, Acting Lead Palliative Care, Cancer Council QLD; Xanthe Sansome, National Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kirsty Trebilcock, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.