Although breakthroughs in cancer treatment have contributed to longer survival rates, the reality is that sometimes treatments stop working, and a cure or remission is no longer possible. Referred to as advanced, terminal. or end stage cancer, it is a topic that is not often addressed.
Talking about this is sometimes perceived as defeatist, yet open communication about this topic leads to clarity among patients and their loved ones and is easier to confront when it is not an imminent reality.
Grief is Normal
Learning that your cancer is terminal evokes a wide-range of feelings including anger, fear, grief, regret, and anxiety. This is perfectly normal. Talking about these feelings with loved ones, friends, and a support system can help bring you comfort. Taking action can help to alleviate fears.
Taking Care of Business
When it feels like things are out of control, taking time to set your affairs in order can help to relieve anxiety about what will happen to your loved ones after your passing. By settling your financial, legal, and business affairs, you and your loved ones can concentrate on the emotional side of your final days.
Taking care of business may include organizing important documents such as your will, insurance policies, bills, bank statements and the information your loved ones will need such as your birth certificate, marriage certificate, and social security card. Consulting a financial advisor may be helpful, especially if you are leaving behind debts or high medical bills or even a substantial estate. Some find it comforting to plan the details of their own funeral, sharing your wishes directly with your family, preferably in written form.
Preparing an advance directive is an important end of life action. An advance directive, or living will, is a legal document that allows you to define your decisions about end-of-life care ahead of time. It is a way to let your loved ones and medical professionals know your wishes to avoid confusion later on. It is important to discuss the contents of the advanced directive with your loved ones to assure they understand your wishes.
Taking care of unfinished relationship business is also important. Finding time to spend with those you love and sharing with them anything that is important creates a sense of peace. There may be strained relationships you wish to repair, or apologies you wish to make. Bear in mind that this may be difficult for others. Some may not feel comfortable visiting with you or having these conversations. Sometimes writing them a note may be easier.
This is a time to reflect on the footprints you are leaving behind. Every person leaves behind a legacy: a collection of life events, accomplishments, and memories that impact others. Spend some time sharing the happy memories with your loved ones. You might consider writing down your memories, or making a video recording your hopes and dreams for your loved ones in the future.
Many find comfort in creating a peaceful space, surrounding themselves with significant photos, objects, or natural views. You may even decide to select your favorite music to listen to when you are feeling anxious or afraid. Religion and spirituality often bring comfort to those at the completion of life. Consulting with clergy can provide a sense of peace.
The completion of life is a stage we will all go through eventually. Remember that while you are still in this journey called life, you have the opportunity to decide how you will spend your final days in a way that will give both you and your family peace.
Remember that there are resources and support available. You are not alone.
General End of Life Resources:
National Cancer Institute: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/advanced-cancer/care-choices/care-fact-sheet
American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/end-of-life-care.html
Cancer Care: https://www.cancercare.org/tagged/hospice_and_end-of-life
Hospice Giving Foundation: https://hospicegiving.org/resources/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgo323I3g3AIVxQOGCh2KbQ7JEAAYAiAAEgK04_D_BwE#NTMF
Advanced Directive and Living Will
American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/finding-and-paying-for-treatment/understanding-financial-and-legal-matters/advance-directives.html