- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Facing end of life
- Emotional and spiritual concerns
- Coping with change and loss
Coping with change and loss
Finding a way to cope with knowing you are dying can depend on many factors, including your age, whether or not you have children, your relationships with a partner or family members, and your cultural or spiritual beliefs. It may also depend on how your family and friends cope with the news.
Everyone will find their own way at their own pace. There is no right or wrong way. For some people, learning more about the physical process of dying can make it easier to cope. Others find it helps not to think too far ahead, but to focus on a month, a week or even a day at a time.
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When you’ve been told that you’re dying with cancer, you may find it hard to feel hopeful. While it may be unrealistic to hope for a cure, you can find hope in other things, such as sharing some special times with those you love. Studies of people dying with cancer show that people’s hope can be maintained when their health professionals:
- involve them in decision-making, especially about palliative care treatment options and where they would like to die
- reassure them that any pain and other symptoms will be well controlled.
Finding a balance between knowing you are dying and still trying to live as fully as possible is sometimes called “living with dying”. This may mean focusing more on the present. You may find that some days it’s easier to achieve this than others.
When you’re approaching the end of life, you may feel like you’ve lost control. One way to maintain some control is to make decisions about your current and future health care and medical treatment, and to record your preferences in advance care paperwork.
Other losses and changes happen throughout a terminal illness – loss of work, loss of social roles, loss of friendships, loss of connection to community, and loss of independence. A dying person often needs to spend time grieving for these losses.
You might also experience preparatory grief, which means reacting to the impending loss of your life. You may grieve for events that you won’t be around for, such as marriages, graduations and new babies in the family. If you don’t have a partner or children, you may mourn the lost opportunity to have these relationships or experiences. You can also grieve for small pleasures such as not being able to have a morning cup of coffee.
Gradually, you may feel less able to do things or you may lose interest in activities you previously enjoyed. For many people, this is a natural part of coming to terms with death. It may make you feel sad and very low, but you may also move towards a sense of peace.
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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