How to support a loved one through terminal cancer

It might be helpful to talk with others who are in a similar situation.
It might be helpful to talk with others who are in a similar situation.

A 12-month cancer awareness project was launched in the East Riding at the start of the year to help support residents through what could be one of the toughest times in their lives.

Supporting a loved one through terminal cancer can often be difficult and a taboo subject that people often don’t want to talk about.

With so many of us experiencing cancer, or the effects of cancer in a loved one, it’s important to talk about it and know what help and support is available in the area.

As part of this, East Riding of Yorkshire Council has been working through a number of cancer-related topics throughout the year which focus on the different types of cancer, the signs and symptoms and what residents can do to support each other.

Part of the support residents can give to their loved ones is being there for them when their diagnosis is terminal.

Hearing that an illness cannot be cured can be a scary ordeal to go through and it’s often helpful to have the support of a family member or friend at the consultation to help retain some of the information.

Helen Dunn, Macmillan specialist palliative care social worker, said: “We offer practical and emotional support with any issue (non-medical) which is affecting the wellbeing of a person.

“Support could include advanced care planning or support with Wills and funeral planning, how or when to talk to children and planning for the future care of children.

“We also support with employment, housing or immigration issues and accessing appropriate benefits.

“We can offer bereavement support but will most often assist people to access other appropriate support services as needed.”

What to do if you have been diagnosed with terminal cancer

Some people may feel like their life is out of their control and they may feel an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty.

There may be questions and worries about the future, such as how and when their body is going to change, the effect this will have on their independence and relationships, financial worries and how much time may be left.

This can be upsetting and it is normal to feel this way. It might be helpful to talk with others who are in a similar situation and hear how they cope with these feelings.

The local support groups in the East Riding can help with this and many specialist charities have information on how to deal with the diagnosis.

Some people find it helpful to take one day at a time and decide on small, achievable goals in order to gain confidence, for example by putting family photos into an album or visiting a friend.

An important part for people to remember is to take some time to do the things they enjoy to look after themselves, such as getting a massage, aromatherapy, reading a book, etc.

Accept offers of help from friends and family and give specific examples of support needed and wanted.

For example, help with shopping, agreeing to them bringing some meals to put in the freezer or help with driving to and from appointments.

Professor Russell Patmore, consultant haematologist and medical director at Castle Hill Hospital, said: “Being given a terminal diagnosis will be devastating for you and your family.

“You will almost certainly be frightened about what the future holds and find it impossible to think clearly about things.

“The most important advice that I can give is to find a way to talk about how you feel.

“The doctors and nurses are there to help.

“Don’t be shy of discussing your worries with them, no matter how odd they might seem to you. Understanding your feelings helps them to support you.

“They can also help you in the difficult conversations with those around you if you are finding it hard.”

What to do if a loved one or friend has been diagnosed with terminal cancer

When a family member or friend is diagnosed with a terminal illness it can be a shock for the people around them. There may be feelings of a range of different emotions and there may be concerns about how to help and support them, as well as what to say to them.

Listening to them and giving them the full attention they need is important and whilst people may not know the right thing to say to someone, often just being there for them will help.

People approaching the end of life stage of their diagnosis often want to hold on to an aspect of normality and this could include maintaining friendships, so it is important to have the same relationship with them as before.

Some people want to talk about their diagnosis and others don’t want to talk at all. A safe way to approach the topics is to ask a question such as “Is there anything on your mind at the moment that may be worrying you?” or “would you like to talk about anything today?”

This then gives the person the chance to talk if they want to, but also not to be reminded of it if they are trying to focus on something else.

Offering to do jobs for your loved one is another way to support them. Offer a list of things you could do and let them choose one that they would be comfortable with you helping with, such as getting some shopping for them, driving them to appointments, walking the dog or having a special day out with them and eating meals together etc.

Sometimes people prefer not to accept help as keeping busy may be an important coping mechanism for them, but it could help them to know you are there for them.