Talking about dying

It can be hard to know how to start conversations about pancreatic cancer and dying. But talking openly about your feelings or wishes can help your family and medical team support and care for you.

Talking to family and friends

Everyone deals with difficult news in different ways. You may not want to talk to family and friends about dying at all. Or you may worry that your family will find talking about it too upsetting.

These can be difficult conversations. But being open and honest about your feelings and wishes can be comforting to you and your family. For example, you may feel less worried about the future if your family know how and where you would like to be cared for. Some people worry about being a burden to their family, or losing their independence. Talk to those close to you about how you would like them to support you. If there’s anything you would rather they didn’t do, let them know this as well.

Talking to children

If you have young children or teenagers in the family, you may worry about how to talk to them and how much you should tell them. For most children and teenagers it’s best to be honest and talk to them as much as possible about what’s going on. You may feel you want to protect them. But even very young children often sense when something is wrong and they may get more worried if they are not told what is happening.

It can help to speak to their school, as schools can access support for children. Schools also find it helpful to be aware of what’s going on at home, for example in planning school work, or if the child’s behaviour changes at all.

Many hospices and palliative care teams have counsellors who can help you talk to children. Some of the organisations listed below provide information about talking to children and support for children and teenagers.

Talking to health professionals

Your doctor and nurses can answer any questions you or your family have about your pancreatic cancer. They can also help you think about what care you will want in the future.

Even though they are professionals, you may find it difficult talking to your doctor or nurse about the end of your life. These suggestions can help make talking to them a bit easier.

  • Think about how much you want to know. It is up to you how much or how little you want them to tell you.
  • Tell your doctor or nurse that you want them to be fully honest with you, if that is what you want.
  • Write down a list of questions you want to ask and have it with you when you talk to your doctor or nurse.
  • Write down their answers or ask a family member or friend to come with you to help you remember what was said.
  • Take time to think about what they have told you, before going back with more questions.
  • Tell your doctor or nurse what is important to you and what you hope will happen in the future. But also think about what you want to happen if things don’t go to plan, for example if you can’t be cared for where you would like to be.

Let your healthcare team know if you’d like a relative or friend there with you during conversations. Ask any questions you may have, and talk to them about anything that is worrying you.

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

  • Is there support to help me talk to my children or grandchildren?
  • What support is there for my family?
  • What support is there for my children or grandchildren?

Where to find more information

  • Macmillan Cancer Support have a range of booklets on talking about cancer with different people, including information about talking to children.
  • Dying Matters has information on how to talk about dying.
  • Winston’s Wish and The Fruit Fly collective both provide information and support to help you talk to children about serious illness.
  • The website Riprap has information for teenagers who have a parent with cancer.

“Some people want to talk about end of life and they want loads of information, other people don’t want to talk about it. My mum didn’t. She didn’t talk about her end of life at all really.”

Published March 2018

Review date March 2020