Helping Your Loved One Cope with Advanced Cancer

Your loved one may be struggling with advanced cancer or with a cancer recurrence. Doctors may be saying that the cancer isn’t responding to treatment. You may have been told that long-term remission isn’t likely. Or your loved one may have decided to discontinue treatment and live out his or her days to the fullest.

This may be a time when new decisions need to be made. Shifts in care may be needed or may already be taking place. The burden of making these decisions together may seem much heavier than it used to be. These choices often come with many emotions, such as sadness, anger, and the fear of the unknown. They may also come with questions about how much longer your loved one will live.

Thinking or talking about these issues may feel like you’re giving up. But you aren’t. It doesn’t mean giving up hope. People usually cope better when they have different options. Having information about how to deal with tough situations will help. Your loved one still deserves good medical care and support from the health care team even if the treatment changes.

Making Decisions Together

You may have been caring for the cancer patient for a short or a long time. Most likely, you’ll be very involved in helping make choices about next steps for care. Some of these choices may include:

  • Treatment goals
  • When to use hospice care
  • Financial decisions
  • How to get support from family members

When dealing with advanced cancer, people have different goals for their care. Some want to keep following more aggressive treatments. Others decide to choose other paths for care. You may wonder: “Have we done everything possible to treat the cancer, or should we try another treatment?” It’s natural to want to do all you can, but you should weigh these feelings against the positives and negatives for your loved one.

Questions to ask:

  • What’s the best we can hope for by trying another treatment?
  • Is this treatment meant to ease side effects or slow the spread of cancer?
  • Is there a chance that a new treatment will be found while we try the old one?
  • What are the possible side effects and other downsides of the treatment? How likely are they?
  • Are the possible rewards bigger than the possible drawbacks?

Asking these questions may help the patient decide whether to continue or begin more treatment. It’s best to work together on this process. It will help you figure out both of your needs and the needs of others close to you.

It’s important to ask your health care team what to expect in the future. And it’s also important to be clear with them about how much information you and the patient want from them.


Source: National Cancer Institute:

Chat is available on business days from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. CST. If you would like to speak with a counselor outside of these hours, please return to the home screen and press the call button. If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, please proceed to the nearest emergency room or call 911 immediately.