Cancer hub

Mags Beal, Cancer Care Clinical Operations Manager

Coping with a terminal cancer diagnosis


2 May 2023

Receiving the news that your cancer is terminal is devastating. There’s no right or wrong way to react and in the first few days; you may experience a range of different feelings, from anger and sadness, to numbness, fear and shock.

Although this rollercoaster of emotional feelings won’t go away, in the days and weeks to come they may gradually become less intense. You may begin to find yourself thinking about your situation and planning what you’d like to do, for yourself and your family.

Mags Beal, Cancer Care Clinical Operations Manager at AXA Health, is here to offer some guidance on how to cope with a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Helping you cope one step at a time

You may find it useful to write things down and make lists of priorities, things that could make the rest of your life easier to cope with and provisions for loved ones.

Don’t tackle everything at once. Take one day at a time and break things down into bite-size chunks – it’s manageable and less overwhelming, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as you tick them off your list.

Make the most of every day

There are many support services available to you and your family, taking advantage of them will help ease pressure and allow you to focus on what’s important to you.

Cancer nurses - If you'd like to be cared for in your own home, Marie Curie nurses offer free home nursing care and support for family and friends.

Transport - Are you worried about how you'll get to hospital? Many areas offer transport services for cancer treatment or appointments. Your local hospice, cancer nurse or GP will have details of this service.

Helper services - What about housework, shopping, light gardening, or emotional support? Macmillan and Marie Curie have helper services that can assist with tasks or simply pop in for a chat.

Childcare - Speak to your local council’s Family Information Service to find out what childcare services they can provide.

Pet care - Friends and neighbours might help out a bit with pet care, but charities such as The Cinnamon Trust offer dog walking and pet foster care.

Empowering yourself 

It's likely you'll be thinking about many things during this time including how to tell family and friends what care choices are available to you, and taking care of financial responsibilities. Give yourself a degree of control by empowering yourself and making the decisions you want.

Tell people - The Dying Matters Coalition advises that talking may not be easy, but it can help you make the most of your life and offer support those you care about.

Palliative care and end of life choices - Palliative care is end of life treatment where pain and symptoms are managed to help make you more comfortable.

Talk to your GP or cancer nurse for details of what’s available or find out about local hospices.

Financial and insurance - Sort out your financial affairs and organise a lasting power of attorney or living will to take care of things in the event you become unable to do so yourself.

Contact your insurer to discuss your life and health insurance cover. Ensure your next of kin knows where all important documents are kept.

Will writing - If you don’t have one, write a will. Or update an existing will. A local solicitor or Citizens Advice can help with legal advice.

Guardianship - It can be especially difficult for single parents, but you need to plan arrangements for your children. You can appoint guardians through your will to make clear who you would want to look after them.

Make funeral plans - Planning your funeral is important. It can give you a sense of control and help your loved ones know what you’d like, which can give them peace of mind.

Think about what type of funeral, music, words and coffin you’d like and whether you’d prefer a cremation or a burial.

Leave memories - It can be tough, but leaving letters, photo albums, videos or memory boxes for your loved ones gives them special memories to treasure.

Help for your family when you’re gone 

Understandably you will want to ensure your family will be cared for and have somewhere to turn for support after you’ve gone. There are various services and groups available:

Bereaved children - The Child Bereavement Network have details of services throughout the UK that support bereaved children and their families. Winston’s Wish runs a helpline for anyone caring for a bereaved child. Cruse Bereavement Care’s Hope Again offers a safe place for young people experiencing grief.

Grief counselling for family members - Organisations such as Cruse Bereavement Care run a helpline and offer face-to-face and group support.

Cancer support for AXA Health members and their families – As an AXA Health member, we’re here to support you when you need it most. That’s why we have a cancer care team supporting people with every step of their cancer treatment. They're at the end of the phone for you and your family, whatever the worry.

Online services - There are lots of online groups where friends and relatives can talk to and connect with people in a similar situation. Celebrating a loved one’s life can be helpful too. The online tribute charity Much Loved is a good starting point.

Stopping unwanted mail - Limit painful daily memories by registering with the Deceased Preference Service or The Bereavement Register.

To access more information about cancer, please visit our Cancer Centre. However, if you have a particular question in mind, please ask one of our healthcare professionals who will be happy to help.

Ask our health professionals

You’re not alone. We’re here to help you take care of your health. 

Our email service allows allows you to ask our team of experienced health professionals, including nurses, midwives, counsellors, pharmacists and dieticians, your health related question. 

You don’t have to be a member, and you can ask for yourself or anyone in your family. We’ll get back to you via email, usually within 24 hours, with clear information and support.