Advanced cancer and emotions - Maggie's Centres

Advanced cancer and emotions


If you, or someone you care about, have been diagnosed with advanced cancer, it’s natural to feel anxious.  You may be worried about what the future holds and what plans you should be making.

When healthcare professionals talk about advanced cancer, they usually mean that your cancer can’t be cured. However,  there is often treatment available to slow the growth and further spread of the cancer for months or years. Treatment can also help reduce any symptoms the cancer may be causing.

The information on this page will help you to find out more about advanced cancer and discover ways to cope with the emotions and practical issues this raises. 

What is advanced cancer?

Learning that you, or someone you care about, has advanced cancer can feel overwhelming. It may, or may not, be news you were expecting  and it can be a lot to take in.

You may have had symptoms which were investigated, and advanced cancer was already present. Alternatively,  you may have had a cancer treated,  and it has come back or stopped responding to the treatment you’re currently on.

Advanced cancer usually means that it can no longer be cured. It can be often be treated however. The aim of the treatment is to slow down the cancer’s growth, reduce its size, ease symptoms, and help you live longer - perhaps for months or years. 

For others, it may be that any treatment plans are focused on improving and maintaining your quality of life for as long as possible. You may be wondering what the future holds, and what plans you and the family should have in place. 

Living with advanced cancer

Here at Maggie’s we recognise how difficult the news has been to hear, and that you and those closest to you may feel scared and not able to concentrate or focus.  We’ve put together some tips to help you find ways to cope with your advanced cancer - and are here to listen, support and help you and the family.

Having advanced cancer moves life’s goalposts, and at first, you may feel helpless and lost. The shock of the news may trigger a wave of emotions, such as anger, guilt, sadness, and fear.  Coping can start by taking back some control over the situation, and there are a number of ways you can do this:-

  • Find out more about what is going to happen next: Ask questions of your healthcare team about treatment plans. Some people find it helps to know their life expectancy (prognosis). This can be hard to predict  as many treatments hold back the cancer for a good length of time. However, if you and your doctors have open discussions, sensitively handled, this information can help you plan ahead.
  • Find out ways you can help yourself: getting organised, having a treatment diary/calendar to keep track of appointments, and setting yourself some achievable goals. For instance, you might want to look at how nutrition and exercise may help. Learning how to de-stress, and relax can ease moments of panic. 
  •  Accept offers of help: If people offer help with food, lifts to hospital, childcare, etc - take them up on it.  Sometimes friends and are not sure how to help. If you ask them to help with a specific task, it’s more likely to happen.
  • Plans may include sorting out finances: talking with your employer, thinking about practical matters including wills, etc. This won’t make your life any shorter, but will give you and those around you peace of mind. You can then focus on living, and getting on with treatment. Maggie’s benefits advisors can help advise on money worries and what you may be entitled to, benefits wise.
  • Recognise that you may need support : Having advanced cancer can make you feel isolated.  Family and relationships may be strained, as you learn to live with the uncertainties you’re facing. You may want to feel closer to those your love, or feel like withdrawing - and this is the time to talk. Your support may come from family and friends, work, school, your local community. Look into support groups, and places like your local Maggie’s, where you can talk openly about the issues you’re facing.
  • Families can feel the strainwhen someone has advanced cancer, everyone around them can also be feeling stressed and mentally exhausted.  Family frictions can arise as a result, at a time when you wish to be closer emotionally. Acknowledging the pressures, sharing the fears and feelings can help relieve the tension. This might be through support groups, or visiting a cancer centre. Maggie’s offers support for the whole family.
  • Keeping ‘hope’ in the frame when cancer can’t be cured, things may begin to feel hopeless. It may be that the aims of hope change. Achievable goals can instill hope. This may be as simple as aiming to live as well as possible for as long as possible. Thinking about breaks away, days out, treats to look forward to - and being able to say ‘no’ more often.

When to seek further help

  • Having advanced cancer can affect your mood - you may feel panicky, low in mood, anxious and not be sleeping very well. These reactions are normal, but if they go on for a number of days, or you feel you cannot cope anymore - do tell your doctor. Help and support is available.
  • If your cancer symptoms are getting worse, or you’re struggling at home, discuss this with your healthcare team. It’s tempting to think you’ll manage  or that there are other worse off than you. However, catching problems and worries early can make life easier.  There are lots of ways to ease side effects and symptoms but your team need to know so they can help.

What now?

Get in touch with your GP, if you’re worried about your future end of life care, or need help and advice about how to manage your care at home.

Look through the links and blogs on this page for further information.

Visit your local Maggie’s Centre, or our online forum, to talk with  our cancser support specialists and others in similar situations


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