Coping with a Terminal Diagnosis

“The opposite of hope is despair, and when we despair, it is because we feel there are no choices.”

Warren G. Bennis

Death is a part of life, but that doesn’t make it any less devastating to learn that you or your loved one’s illness is terminal. As you navigate this difficult time, know that terminal illness doesn’t have the power to take away the joy of living, you are not alone in your feelings and there is always hope to create joy and beauty in whatever time is left.

Receiving a terminal diagnosis

Depending on the circumstances of you or your loved one’s illness, you may have been prepared for a terminal diagnosis. If you were previously unaware of the illness’ severity (or even its existence), receiving this news may come as a complete shock.

How you process this difficult news is highly personal, but rest assured that whatever your reactions, they are entirely normal. Following are some of the feelings that you or your loved ones may experience in the wake of a terminal diagnosis:

  • shock
  • fear
  • anger
  • resentment
  • denial
  • helplessness
  • sadness
  • frustration
  • relief
  • acceptance

Any and all of these feelings are expected reactions to learning that you or your loved one is dying. News of a terminal illness may leave you feeling like you are utterly without hope. But whether you have days, weeks, months or years left, there is still time to bask in the joy and love that life has to offer. When time is limited, the quality of that time still holds immense potential.

Empowering yourself with information and resources

Once the initial shock of the diagnosis has somewhat subsided, you can empower yourself by gathering information and identifying resources to plan ahead. Your doctor can offer you information about the symptoms you are likely to expect as your illness progresses.

Following are some additional resources that may help:

Understanding palliative and hospice care

The purpose of both hospice and palliative care is to refocus on living. As your condition progresses, these services can help improve quality of life. Following are ways that palliative and hospice care can help dying patients enjoy the time they have left:

  • Comfort care and pain management.
  • Alternative therapies (horticultural, music and pet therapy).
  • Pastoral care and spiritual support.
  • Social work and counseling.
  • Symptom management.
  • Help with anxiety and restlessness.
  • Ability to stay at home (or in a long-term care or hospice facility).
  • Minimize (or even eliminate) stays at the hospital.
  • More time with family and friends.
  • Counseling and support for loved ones.

For a comprehensive directory of end-of-life resources, visit https://www.nhpco.org/resources/end-life-care–resources.

If you would like more information about palliative care, hospice care or counseling services, please contact Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro at 336.621.2500.

Additional resources:
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/end-of-life-care/coping-with-a-terminal-illness/
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/end-of-life/in-depth/grief/art-20047491