- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Facing end of life
- Common questions about dying
- How long have I got?
How long have I got?
Some people want to know 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. They won’t be able to give you an exact answer. As everyone is different, a doctor can only give you an estimate (prognosis) based on what usually happens to people in your situation, but can’t say exactly what will happen to you.
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.
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 perhaps even longer.
It is likely to be very difficult if you are told that the time you have left to live will probably be short. Even if it is only a matter of weeks, having a sense of how much time might 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 unsettled and like you’re waiting to die, or you might feel lucky to be living beyond that time. It may help to talk about how you’re feeling with your family, the palliative care team, your doctor or a counsellor.
Dr Megan Ritchie, Staff Specialist Palliative Medicine, Palliative Care Service, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Gabrielle Asprey, Cancer Support Consultant, Cancer Council NSW; Rosemary Cavanough, Consumer; Louise Durham, Nurse Practitioner, Metro South Palliative Care Service, QLD; Tracey Gardner, Senior Psychologist, Cancer Counselling Service, Cancer Council Queensland; Karen Hall, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC; Rowena Robinson, Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia, ACT; Helena Rodi, Program Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia, VIC.
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