Health Encyclopedia

End-of-Life Concerns for Cancer Patients

In the course of cancer treatment, some cancer patients and their families will face difficult, end-of-life decisions. Many thoughts may race though your mind: What will happen to my family? How long will I live? How do I maintain control?

Hearing your doctor suggest that you plan and prepare for the end of life can be overwhelmingly emotional and confusing. Talking about end-of-life care may not only be extremely difficult, it may also catch you by surprise. According to a recent study, many cancer patients don't consider end-of-life preparations until their doctor tells them it's necessary. At that point, it's an urgent matter.

One pressing concern may be how to live out the remainder of your life at home, so that you can spend the most time with your loved ones. You may also feel pressed to put your legal documents and affairs in order, so that you can make decisions that are important to you.

Managing a flood of emotions

There's no right or wrong way to feel when facing the end of your life. You may experience a complex mix of emotions. You may feel grief and regret over choices you made in life or things you weren’t able to do. You may have anxiety about the loved ones you’ll be leaving behind. You may fear pain. You may be angry about your cancer and the unfairness of life.

You may also find that you want answers — why did this happen to you and what meaning has your life had? Your loved ones and your cancer care or hospice team will help you deal with this mix of emotions and search for answers and peace.

Legal and financial decisions

Although it’s difficult to prepare yourself or your loved ones for the end of life, you may find some comfort in getting your affairs in order so that your wishes can be easily carried out. Address concerns about what will happen to your money and property to protect your family. You may want to communicate your wishes about what happens medically at the end of your life, such as whether you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops, or if you want certain life-sustaining treatments.

An attorney can help you get legal documentation in order. If you don't have a will, for example, an attorney will help you draw one up to make sure your finances and belongings are distributed the way you want them to be. A lawyer can also help you create an advance directive, directions for your medical care team on how to care for you and provide treatment if you are no longer able to communicate your wishes.

You may feel powerless as you face end-of-life issues. However, you are able to make choices about the way you live out and prepare for the end of your life. This will help make your remaining time as meaningful as possible.