Is this the end?


As we finished 2012, we looked forward to 2013 and had the hope that it will be a better year than the previous one.  I hope so too, as none of us have been left untouched by sickness, disease or ill-health at some stage in our lives.

However, there are those amongst us, for whom New Year 2013 is possibly the last one they will celebrate.  How should those people living with terminal cancer approach 2013?  I prefer to call the situation ‘living’ with a terminal cancer, rather than ‘dying’ from a terminal cancer.  There is a significant difference, and much more than looking at life through my rose-colored glasses.

So you have just found out you have terminal cancer.  What can you do?  The first thing is to sit down and take stock of your circumstances.  All of us know that the piece of string called “life” eventually comes to an end – but we don’t know when.  The only difference with you, is that your doctor has actually told you when your piece of “life” string is due to run out.

Now whilst the immediate thought is “How do I beat this?” there are many factors you have to consider in the time ahead, and one of the main ones is called ‘The Quality of Life’.

It is natural for a person with advanced cancer to feel many emotions including anger, fear, and sadness.  Just as you may need time to adjust to this new phase of your life, your family and friends may also need time to adjust to these new circumstances as well. Once you have been given the diagnosis, the onus is now on you to find out as much as you can about your particular cancer.  Talk with your treating doctors, and get information from reliable internet sites.  Note I say “reliable” sites.  There are always plenty of sites ready to sell you snake oil.  However, I do suggest you read everything and become the world expert on your own condition.  But don’t buy snake oil.

But back to Quality of Life.  Now is the time to manage your symptoms.  Your quality of life is better if your symptoms are under control.  Talk to your doctors about the best way for you to manage your symptoms.  Analgesics (pain killers) are important, and there are many with different capabilities.  With some of the patch technologies, the pain relief is almost as good as injections.  There’s a lot more than paracetamol.

Do not be afraid to ask your doctors to fully explain any proposed treatment.  Getting an extra two months of life, but at the cost of the Quality of Life, may not be worth having.  Always keep that in mind.  Quality of (the remaining) life is everything.  You do not want to spend those ‘extra’ two months in an ICU recovering from major surgery.

Please make your wishes known as well.  Making the decision to stop active cancer treatments can be a hard choice for a person with cancer and their family.  These are personal choices.  If you are faced with making these decisions, talk with your family and doctors about your wishes and explore all of your options.  You are still able to make decisions about your life to the extent that you desire.  Just keep saying that mantra “Quality of Life”, that is the key to everything at this stage.  Don’t forget it!

You should also consider creating a ‘Living Will’ or giving specific instructions on what your wishes are as your cancer progresses.  This process helps make your end-of-life wishes and desires known to family, friends, and your doctors and can help ensure that your wishes are honored.  I personally believe this is a most important step.

Sorry if the column this week sounds a little deep and dark, but it can give assistance to those who feel as if all their options have gone.  There are always options.  Even deciding not to continue with various therapies is an option.  From my personal point of view, I have taken note of the old phrase, “You can’t take it with you,” and consequently I have decided I’m not going.  That’s another option!