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 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.

Key information for families and friends

  • You may feel a range of emotions if your family member or friend is approaching the end of life. There is support available for you.
  • Asking the doctors and nurses what to expect can help you to feel more in control. You can speak to the healthcare team without your family member being there, if they have given their permission.
  • Ask the doctor or nurse for details of who to call if you need help or advice, especially at night or at weekends.
  • If you are caring for your family member at home, we have more information on getting the care and support you need.
  • Ask friends and family to help with anything you need. People are often happy to help out.
  • Think about anything you want to talk to your family member about, or how you would like to make the most of your time together.
  • We have information about some of the common symptoms people may get in the last few months and how these are managed. People may have different symptoms in the last few days, and there may be signs that the end of life is near.
  • There is support available to help you cope with grief and loss after someone dies.

Support for you

It’s normal to feel a range of emotions if you are told that your family member is nearing the end of their life. 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 you may be juggling their care with other responsibilities, such as work or children. You may find counselling helpful or speaking to your own GP about how you are feeling.

You may want lots of information about what is happening, or you may just be focusing on caring for them. The doctors and nurses can tell you what to expect, which can help you to feel more in control.

If you feel you need a break, you may be able to get temporary care for your family member. This may help you to cope better. Temporary care may be somebody coming in to sit with them for a few hours, day care in a hospice, or a stay in a hospice or a care home. You may hear this called respite care. Speak to your GP or the district nurse about this care.

Carers UK and Carers Trust both provide information and support for carers.

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

Read more about emotional support for families

Emotional support for family members
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“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 information about getting medical and practical support when you are caring for someone at home.

Ask friends or family to help with things such as the shopping, cooking or looking after children so you have less to worry about. Marie Curie have more information and tips on helping you plan your time and feel more in control.

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 symptoms or symptoms are getting worse
  • seems uncomfortable
  • isn’t emptying their bladder or bowels
  • has fallen.

Carers UK has information on getting care and support. This includes information on planning emergency care, in case you are not able to care for your family member for any reason.

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“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 and 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. Read more information on making plans.

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 information on talking about dying.

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Quotemarks Created with Sketch.

“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.”

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Quotemarks Created with Sketch.

“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?
  • Who should I contact for help or advice?
  • Will someone tell me when the person I’m caring for is close to dying?

Published April 2021

Review date April 2024