Information for families at the end of life

Knowing where to get help and information can help you look after someone with pancreatic cancer who is nearing the end of their life.

Looking after someone with pancreatic cancer who is nearing the end of their life can feel overwhelming. Knowing where to get help and information can take some of the pressure off and can help you make the most of the time you have left with your loved one.

Support for you

Being told that your family member is nearing the end of their life is distressing and it’s normal to feel a range of emotions. You may take comfort from being able to care for them. Or you may be struggling to come to terms with this new situation. You may not live with your family member, or may be juggling their care with other responsibilities, such as work or children.

You may want lots of information about what is happening, or you may just be focusing on caring for them. Finding out what to expect can help you to feel more in control. You can speak to the doctors and nurses, either with or without your family member present, with their permission. We have information about some of the common symptoms people with pancreatic cancer get in the last few months and how these are managed. We also have information about the symptoms they may get towards the end.

Speak to our specialist nurses

Our specialist nurses on our free Support Line support families and carers as well as people with pancreatic cancer. You can ask them any questions you have, as well as talking through your worries.

Speak to our nurses
Pancreatic Cancer Nurse Jeni Jones

You may find counselling helpful. Some carers whose family members have died have said that, looking back, they think that starting counselling earlier would have helped them cope with their grief.

If you feel you need a break, you may be able to get some respite care. This is temporary care to give families and carers a break. Carers Trust has information about how to access respite care.

Read more about emotional support for families

Emotional support for family members

“I was offered free counselling. This was an excellent service and has really helped me.”

Caring for your loved one

The demands on you can increase quite quickly in the last few weeks or days, especially if you are looking after someone at home. You may need to do more and more for them, including washing and personal care, giving medicines, making sure they are comfortable and helping them with eating and drinking. Read more about getting medical and practical support when you are caring for someone at home.

Ask the doctor or nurse for details of who to call if you need help or advice, including at night or at weekends. Keep these somewhere you can get to them quickly.

When to get medical help

Contact the GP or nurse if:

  • treatment is no longer keeping symptoms under control
  • you are finding it hard to give medicines to your family member
  • there’s anything you are unsure or concerned about
  • you are struggling and finding it difficult to cope.

And contact them if your family member:

  • is finding it difficult to swallow medication
  • has any new or worsening symptoms
  • seems uncomfortable
  • isn’t emptying their bladder or bowel
  • has fallen.

“Keep a list of medication and other important information for out of hours GP visits, as it means this is close to hand when needed.”

Spending time together

The person you are caring for may want relatives, children or pets to be with them in the last weeks of their life. This can be comforting for everyone. If your family member is staying in a hospital or hospice, you can ask whether relatives can stay overnight or if pets are allowed to visit

If your family member would like some time alone with their partner, they could ask their nurses if this is possible, especially if they are in a hospice or hospital. Many people want time to be close and intimate in private and the healthcare team will do all they can to help.

There may be things you’d like to say to your family member while they are still well enough. You might want to talk about their hopes and wishes, or share memories. You may want to talk about practical things like financial issues, their will, or what they want to happen after they die. Or you may just want some quiet time together to say goodbye. Sometimes, people can put things off or feel that it’s too late to start these conversations. But it can be helpful and reassuring for everyone to talk about these things early on. Read more about talking about dying.

“My friend regretted not having sat down with her dad and gone through what he wanted to do with things like accounts and paperwork when he was well enough.”

“I had no idea how to express my feelings to my dad. I was too busy staying positive and telling him all sorts of happy things we had done together rather than expressing to him how lost I would be without him.”

Questions to ask the doctor or nurse

  • What can I do to support my family member or friend?
  • What help can I get with caring for my relative?
  • Will someone tell me when the person I’m caring for is close to dying?

More information for families

Published March 2018

Review date March 2020