Coping with advanced cancer

A diagnosis of advanced cancer often means finding new or different ways to cope with your emotions.

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Managing uncertainty

Having advanced cancer often means living with uncertainty about what lies ahead. This can be challenging. Some people say they avoid thinking about what the future may hold by keeping busy or distracting themselves from their thoughts. While distraction can work in the short term, you may need to find your own way to manage difficult thoughts and emotions. Everyone will find their own way at their own pace. There is no right or wrong way.

Loss and grief

A diagnosis of advanced cancer often involves a series of losses, such as the loss of good health, changing relationships, the loss of your hopes and future plans, or a loss of independence. You may need time to grieve for these losses.

Different people grieve in different ways. It is not as simple as going through stages. It is a process, and the intensity can vary. Some people describe different “waves” of grief, from mild to overwhelming. You may experience grief gradually and at different times – at diagnosis, if you start to feel unwell, or if treatment stops working.

A social worker or counsellor can help you and your family find strategies to manage the grief and loss you may experience. Your palliative care team can also provide grief support or refer you to someone who can help.

Being realistic

A common belief is that people with cancer need to stay positive. While you don’t have to deny the reality that cancer is often frightening and serious, pressure to be optimistic all the time can drain your energy. It can also make it difficult to discuss any fears or sad feelings, which can make problems seem worse.

Try to be realistic about what is happening and talk to someone about how you’re feeling. This may help you cope better and get the support you need.

You might find that talking to a counsellor or psychologist allows you to discuss your worries more openly. The Better Access initiative allows GPs to refer people to a psychologist for up to 10 free or subsidised sessions. Ask your GP for a referral to a psychologist or find your own at Find a Psychologist. Carers can also call the National Carer Counselling Program on 1800 242 636. This offers short-term counselling and is run by your local Carers Association.

Looking for meaning

Everyone has their own beliefs about the meaning of life. For some people, this might be found in spirituality or family; for others, it’s found in nature or art. It’s quite common for people diagnosed with advanced cancer to re-examine what life means for them.

A diagnosis of advanced cancer does not always stop people from trying to achieve long-held goals, but they may start to focus on what is most important to them. While the diagnosis may cause some people to live life at a slower pace, others may feel an urgency to make the most of each day.

You may want to discuss meaning in your life with someone close to you, a spiritual care practitioner, or a professional counsellor or psychologist. If you’d prefer not to talk to someone else, you could write in a journal, meditate or pray.

Celebrating your life

Having advanced cancer is often a chance for people to reflect on their life and all they have done, and to think about their legacy. You could talk with family and friends about the special times you have shared together.

You might like to share some of your belongings with family and friends as a permanent reminder. You could also write letters or stories of your life, record special memories, review or arrange photo albums, document your family’s history or family tree, make a playlist of favourite songs, gather treasured recipes into a cookbook, or create artwork or music.

Finding hope

When you’ve been told you have advanced cancer, you may find it hard to feel hopeful.

What you hope for may change with time. You may look forward to good days with understanding company or the love of family and friends. You may find yourself hoping you will maintain your sense of independence or stay symptom-free. Some people try activities they’ve never tried before and find hope in this new aspect of their lives. Others find hope in small projects, such as completing a scrapbook of their life or planning a trip with their family.

   — Roberta

While the cancer and its treatment can limit your activities, some people discover new strengths in themselves, and this gives them hope.

For some people, faith or spiritual beliefs can help them get through tough times. People who find hope in these beliefs describe feelings of optimism that are hard to explain to others. Cancer can also test people’s beliefs. Either way, you may find it helpful to talk to a spiritual care practitioner, counsellor or psychologist for support.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on living with advanced cancer.

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Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in December 2019
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Cancer information

What is cancer?
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Dealing with the diagnosis
Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis and how to find hope

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