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Coping with the news that you are dying

If you have been told that you are approaching the end of your life, it is natural to have lots of different emotions. You may feel shocked, angry, frightened, sad or numb. And you may be worrying about what will happen to you over the coming months and weeks, and how you and your family and friends will cope.

Pancreatic cancer can grow and spread quickly. You may feel you haven’t had much time, if any, to come to terms with being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer before being told that you may only have a few months or weeks to live.

It can be difficult to make sense of what is happening, and it is ok to ask for help. Your family may also need help dealing with how they are feeling, and the support described here is also available for them.

Getting support

You may find it comforting to talk to family or friends about how you are feeling. But these can be difficult conversations, and some people find it easier to talk to people outside their family or friends. For example, some people find it helpful to speak to a spiritual leader, either religious or non-religious.

You could talk to a member of your healthcare team – they will be able to provide emotional as well as medical support. They should also know about any services locally that can help.

Our specialist nurses on our free Support Line also provide emotional support. They can answer your questions and talk through any worries you may have.

Some people find it helpful to talk to a counsellor. Counselling can help you find ways to cope with how you are feeling. It is confidential so you can be honest about how you feel without worrying that you may upset other people. Your local hospice or hospital may offer counselling, and some hospices have counsellors who can visit you at home. Speak to your GP or nurse about what counselling is available.

Hospices and local cancer centres may also provide free emotional support. For example, they may run support groups, where you can meet other people with cancer that can’t be cured. Speak to your GP or nurse about what’s available locally.

You could also join our online discussion forum to talk to others in a similar situation.

How long do I have left to live?

You may want to know how long you have left to live, or what will happen as you approach the end of your life. If you do want to know more, speak to your doctor. It’s often difficult for doctors to give you a clear timescale, but they may be able to give you some information about your situation. Or you may prefer not to know and live each day as it comes. The doctors will respect this decision.

You may want to discuss things with your family as they might want different information from you. If you wish, you can give the doctors permission to speak to your family and answer their questions without you being present.

Questions to ask

  • Who can I talk to about my worries?
  • What support is there to help me cope emotionally?
  • How can a counsellor help? Can you refer me to one?
  • What services locally can help?
  • How long do I have to live?
  • How will I know when I only have a few weeks or days to live?

More information and support

  • Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie both offer a range of support and information for people at the end of life, including emotional support. They have produced a booklet together, called End of life: a guide, which describes some of the things you may need to deal with in the last year of life and provides information about practical and emotional support.
  • Maggie’s Centres provide free emotional and practical support to people with cancer. You can drop into one of their centres, or visit their online centre.
  • The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy explains what counselling is, and you can search for counsellors, including counsellors who specialise in cancer.
  • The Samaritans offer a safe place for you to talk at any time about anything that’s worrying you. You don’t have to feel suicidal to contact them.  
  • Healthtalk.org  shares people’s experiences as stories or videos. They have experiences of pancreatic cancer, including from people who have advanced pancreatic cancer and their families.

“My partner was diagnosed just before Christmas so there was a period of limbo where we really felt we had no one to talk to. This is when I found the Pancreatic Cancer UK website. Later I found the discussion forum and the Support Line. I cannot stress too much how valuable I found both of these. My partner preferred not to use these resources himself but always wanted to know what information I’d got from them. It definitely helped both of us to know that we weren’t the only people going through this.”

“My partner and I didn’t talk much about his feelings about the future, as we preferred to live in the here and now. But he found talking to a counsellor a huge help.”

Read more about talking about dying

Find out about care towards the end of life and how to access it

Read about symptoms people may get in the last few months of life and how these are managed

Read information for families caring for someone towards the end of life

Find organisations that can support you towards the end of life

Information Standard

Published March 2018

Review date March 2020