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I Have a Terminal Illness: Things To Consider

“We Must Be Willing to Let Go of the Life We Have Planned, So As to Have the Life That is Waiting For Us.” – Joseph Campbell

“I have a terminal illness.” The single realisation that has the ability to turns a patient’s whole world upside down and inside out. Patients are engulfed by a spectrum of intense emotions, ranging from feelings of numbness to anger and resentment. Understanding your emotions towards your terminal illness provides a solid foundation to overcome the fears you have surrounding the journey towards the end of your life.

There’s no right or wrong way to feel when you’re told you have a terminal illness. We all react to such news differently. Living with a terminal illness and hearing that it cannot be cured is a frightening experience. Many people will be unable to take everything in.

Seven Things to Consider When You Have Been Diagnosed with a Terminal Illness

One of the worst things to happen to anyone is to be told that they have an incurable and terminal illness. As doctors, we know this because we have often had to break this bad news to many patients, and it is never easy. If you, or someone you know, has been told they have a terminal life-limiting illness, here are some of the survival tips that many doctors have learnt over the years.

While they may not be useful to everyone, they may help start a conversation with “I have a Terminal Illness”. At “Dying to Understand” we welcome your views and tips about how to manage a terminal diagnosis.

Have Perspective

You aren’t going to die today so there is no need to panic!

Life itself is terminal. From the movement we are born, we are all faced with this ultimate destiny, to eventually die.

Being told that “your life is ending” simply makes this abstract truth a reality- only a little sooner than we’d like. It tells us that the adventure of our life is going to end sooner than we expected. We are then encouraged to view life from a different perspective- to find beauty and joy in things we normally wouldn’t otherwise.

We are told that now is the time to live, even if we are dying.

how to cope with bereavement - glass ball

Use Your Time

The show ain’t over until the fat lady sings!

You are not dead yet! Terminal patients often have two choices: the one is to accept their destiny and get on with living or the other is to withdraw and get on with dying.

Living is much easier than dying. A bend in the road is not the end of the road! Don’t give up on life, you are still here. Having a fighting spirit and a positive mental attitude makes a world of a difference.

Have a goal to make the most of living, every day and of every opportunity. Look at all the options, check that you have all the facts. Work with your doctors and nurses to formulate a survival plan. Quality health services are essential to improving the quality of life in terminally ill patients. Preparing for death makes living all the sweeter.

i have a terminal illness watch

Expect and Understand the Emotions of Loss

We have all suffered loss and disappointment at some stage in our life. It may have been missing out on a promotion or being shunned by a high school sweetheart.

Being told that “you are going to die” can feel an overwhelming sense of dread and fear. The typical emotions of loss described by Dame Kubler-Ross are denial and shock, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

These are normal emotions. They will affect you and those who love you so be prepared. Don’t be blindsided by them. Recognise that emotions are powerful, and they can be disruptive, but they don’t last forever. Emotions change, and over time, regardless of how dark it may seem today, there will be some light. Wait for it… expect it- It will come.

What Is Palliative Care? - man in jacket

Expect and Accept Change

Nothing is going to be the same again!

Physically things will change. Illness will become a way of life, so work not to make it a part of death! Don’t let illness dominate the choices you make and the way you live life.

Even if it is not possible physically, try to find ways of being free of illness, mentally, even if it is for a short time. Look for opportunities that add value and defy illness. Do the things you love and talk to those close to you. The hope is that “even though we limp, we may still be able to walk”.

In some ways the changes that people face in the setting of a terminal illness can become a gift. It encourages them to refocus, find themselves, appreciate the value of life and become a better person. These changes are difficult and scary. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in managing and understanding these changes.

i have a terminal illness changing leaves

Choose to Be Courageous

Courage is already in you, it just needs to be released!

Those who say they do not fear death either do not understand the magnitude of the problem or they are lying. Everyone fears death and dying. Courage is not the absence of fear but the willingness to act in spite of fear. What are you going to do?

It is important to talk about how you feel: speak to someone, write it down in a journal or paint or do whatever it takes to get the emotion out. Don’t bottle it up. Support groups and professional help has also proven to have tremendous benefits to negate the strong emotions brought by the time you have left and bring you together with those in similar situations.

Also, consider opportunities along the way. What can you do to make your life, and perhaps the lives of others better?

Can you help us make the dying journey easier by sharing your journey?

how to cope with bereavement - mountain climbing

Be Kind To Yourself

“Be nice to yourself! It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time.”- Christine Arylo

Dying is no one’s fault. It is something that is going to happen to all of us.

There is no correct way to deal with a terminal illness. You will experience a tremendous range of emotions, from anger and resentment to fear and depression. Some days will be better than others. Forgive yourself for the times when you don’t handle something as well as you’d like to.

Give yourself a break, be kind to yourself on this uncertain journey. Do not beat yourself up, feel guilty or be depressed about something that never was in your control in the first place. Look to the future. Have you considered the next step afterlife, the promise of redemption, the gift of eternal life and being united with a God that loves you?

i have a terminal illness old woman

I Have a Terminal Illness

Hold Hope Close and Seize the Day

Starting a conversation with “I have a Terminal Illness” is the first step in coming to terms with the death and the end of your life. Although it can be a daunting prospect, living for you and those around you can make a huge difference in the overall view you hold about your short, but the incredibly meaningful, journey.

Hold hope close. Seize opportunities to make life beautiful. Hold your spouse’s hand or that of your child. Watch the Sunrise and Sunset. Do what you need to do to find a simple moment of joy. You might not have the gift of time, but you can make the most of the time that you have.

These are our suggestions on dealing with terminal illness. We hope they are useful. Please get in touch at Dying to Understand
to share your frank views and comments. Together we believe that we can do dying better.

More Information and Resources

future change rain on leaf

Our Resources

Don’t let dying be a plane crash disaster. Talking about dying has never killed anyone! If you or someone you know has an incurable illness, it is recommended to have discussions about the fear of dying early.

Looking for more information on the fear of dying? Stickman is an everyday guy who is here to help confront the issues of death and dying.

Dying To Understand is a not-for-profit Charity. Click Below for our Green Page Directory for more Death and Dying Resources.

fear of dying apple


When it comes to dying, we can never be too prepared. Death has a way of being permanent and anything left undone remains undone. There is a lot to do, but don’t get overwhelmed. Make a list of things that need to be done or organised, and use our tool to help make sure you’ve got it all covered.

Finances of dying mountain climbing


When it comes to death and dying, expressing your views via legally supported documentation is essential. Usually, these legal documents take the form of testaments and wills, a power of attorney, estate planning and other matters your lawyer may consider. Whatever you do, try to avoid doing it yourself as it won’t survive if the vultures come, as they do, after death. Money spent on good legal documents and advice turns out to be cheap in comparison to drawn-out court cases when someone contests a will.

Financial planning for death hand of coins


Stay in control even when you are not. When your health is fading, and death is nearer, medical care will undoubtedly increase and your wishes associated with this care are important.

Important things to consider to support the dying process are advanced directives, resuscitation instructions and, most importantly, exploring the benefits of palliative care. It’s important, for living and for dying, to be informed.

how to cope with bereavement - wheelchair on pavement

Estate Planning & Financial Matters

Even though you cannot take it with you when you die, you do want to ensure that your assets are protected. Seeking financial advice about estate planning before dying is essential. Why pay unnecessary tax and fees if you can avoid it. Seeking professional help to ensure your estate and other assets are safe and directed where you want, is of utmost importance for both you and your family or friends.

surviving death feather

Funerals and Cremations

After death comes the funeral or the farewell. Most people think of funerals or cremations negatively. They are not bad, they are events that play an essential function in society and are an important part in the dying process in that they honour the life lived, deal with grief and, most importantly, dispose of the deceased body. 

Man giving a helping hand
Man giving a helping hand

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