Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Coping With Terminal Cancer

Cancer Diagnosis - Coping With Terminal Cancer

Sometimes, cancer cannot be cured. When that is the case, patients and families are faced with complex emotions and decisions and a variety of end-of-life issues.

A terminally ill person has no expectation of a cure for his or her disease or illness, but still requires a lot of care and comfort. Knowing what a dying person understands about his or her condition, as well as his or her fears, feelings, emotions, and physical changes that occur may help those around them make the diagnosis and dying process easier to cope with.

The emotional, physical, and spiritual impact a dying friend, family member, or spouse has on a family and community cannot be measured. Understanding how people at different ages and developmental levels view death and dying may help to alleviate many of the fears and uncertainties associated with this process. It is important to realize that people from non-Western cultures may express grief and make decisions in a way that may appear unfamiliar or unreasonable, but be culturally appropriate within the framework of their own culture or community.

The concept of death

Everyone has his or her own unique concept of death. Past experiences with death, as well as one's age, emotional development, and surroundings are what most influence one's own concept of death. Movies, television, and books are filled with images of death. The person with a terminal condition may have previously lost a family member, friend, or pet. Treating death as a part of life is difficult, but may help alleviate some of the fear and confusion associated with it. Dealing with death must be done within the belief system of the patient and family.

How children and youth view death:

It is important for parents to realize that children of all ages respond to death in a unique way. Children need support and, in particular, someone who will listen to their thoughts and provide reassurance to alleviate their fears.

How adults deal with death

Grief is a natural human response to the loss of a loved one. It can manifest itself in many ways. Grief moves in and out of stages from disbelief and denial, to anger and guilt, to finding a source of comfort, to eventually adjusting to the loss.

It is normal for both the dying person and the survivors to experience grief. For survivors, the grieving process can take many years and many forms. The challenge of accepting death and dying as the end stage of life is what the grieving process is all about.

What is anticipatory grief vs. sudden loss?

What may happen in the case of anticipated loss?

Many, although not all, people facing their own death are willing to discuss issues of death and dying. This can be a time to discuss spiritual issues, resolve family concerns, reflect on a loved one's life and accomplishments, and express gratitude. Some may feel that they have unfinished work of personal importance that they must complete. It also provides an opportunity to put practical matters in order, including the following:

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