How long have I got?

Some people want to know how long they have left to live, while others prefer not to know. It’s a very personal decision. This question can be hard for your doctor to answer and you may find their response is vague. As everyone is different, a doctor can 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.

Some doctors may sound very definite about the amount of time left to live, but it is only ever an estimate. Other doctors may be hesitant in case they overestimate or underestimate the time. But you can ask for an estimate if it is important to you. They will probably talk about your remaining life span in terms of days, days to weeks, weeks to months, or perhaps even longer.

     − Agnes

You may want to think about whether quality of life or the amount of time left to live is more important to you. Some people might choose to have less time if it means feeling relatively well, while others want as much time as possible, regardless of how they feel.

Sometimes people find that near the end they change their minds and want to do everything possible to postpone death, if only by days. This is a natural reaction. Talk to your family and your health care team about your preferences, and let them know if these preferences change.

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 an opportunity to prioritise what you’d like to do.

If you live past the estimated time, you may feel unsettled and not quite know what you should do next. Or you might feel lucky to be living beyond that time. It may help to talk about your feelings with your family, the palliative care team, your doctor or a counsellor.

This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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