Talking about dying

It can be hard to know how to start conversations about pancreatic cancer and dying. But talking openly about your feelings and wishes can help your family and healthcare 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, or struggle to come to terms with the news that you are dying.

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.

If you find that you are having to tells lots of people about what’s happening, you could ask one person to update the rest of your family and friends for you.

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 explain to them what’s going on. You may feel you want to protect them, but even very young children often sense when something is wrong. They may get more worried if they are not told what is happening.

It can help to speak to their school, as schools can provide 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. Students can talk to their college or university, who can provide support and help with their workload.

Support for children and teenagers

Many hospices and palliative care teams have counsellors who can help you talk to children. We have more information on finding support for children, including a list of organisations that can provide support.

Find more support for children

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.

Ask them any questions you may have, and talk to them about anything that is worrying you. If you find talking to your doctor or nurse hard, these things may make it 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.
  • You could write down a list of questions before speaking to your doctor or nurse.
  • Write down their answers or ask a family member or friend to write notes and help you remember what was said.
  • 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 doctor or nurse know if you’d like a relative or friend there with you during conversations.

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

  • How long do I have to live?
  • How will I know when I only have a few weeks or days to live?
  • 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?

More information and support

The organisation Dying Matters has information on how to talk about dying. We list more organisation who provide information and support for people nearing the end of life, and their friends and families.

Find more information and support
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“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 April 2021

Review date April 2024