Your Cancer Fighting Journey

Your Loved One Has Terminal Cancer, and Docs Say There’s Nothing They Can Do-What Now?

+ Pamela Friedman

It’s been only a short while now since Patrick Swayze, actor and dancer, lost his battle to pancreatic cancer and passed away, leaving behind his beautiful wife and an inspirational love story that lasted over 30 years.

“She’s a tough woman,” says Bill Rotco, co-creator of Swayze’s final project, the A&E series The Beast, “but she’s lost her best friend.”1

It’s one of the hardest things to hear, that a loved one may soon no longer be with us. But when the doctors have done all they can do, the disease is taking over the body, and death seems more of a blessing than a thief, what are we to do?

“My brother, aged 60…was diagnosed last October with Stage 4 PC [pancreatic cancer],” says caregiver Big Sister. “The outcome was inevitable no matter what the doctors did. No matter how much we loved him, no matter how much we prayed for him, interceded for him, bargained for him, he died a week before Christmas, 2006.”

Sometimes it’s not always so clear cut. Sometimes there still seems to be hope. As long as there’s hope there’s every reason to hold onto it. But if the end of life is near, it’s time to take advantage of the time you have left.

First of all, consider your loved one. Would he prefer to be home, in the care of a family member or hospice personnel? Or is round-the-clock care at a hospital or other facility a better option? The Mayo Clinic suggests you seriously evaluate how much support family and friends can truly give, then determine what other resources you may want to take advantage of.

Next, consider your loved one’s spiritual needs. If she expresses a desire to speak with someone, help her to fulfill that wish. If she hasn’t mentioned it, perhaps ask about her beliefs or experiences, to get her talking. Many people are afraid to talk about dying because they think it will frighten others away when they’re needed most. If you feel you can, be one of those people strong enough to serve as a sounding board for your loved one’s fears, doubts, and concerns about the afterlife-or other topics like funeral arrangements and care for loved ones left behind.

Next, try to open the door for sharing to take place. Donna Belk, registered yoga teacher and hospice worker, suggests conversation starters like “I really love it when I remember…” or “Is there anything you’ve wanted to tell me?” or “Can you tell me about the time…?” Show the person how he has touched others (and you), and ask for life’s lessons you can pass down to younger people in the family. Helping your loved one to see the value in his life is a great gift to give.

Finally, try to stay open to what the future holds. According to the National Institutes of Health, “predicting how long someone will live is difficult. Every patient is different. Some patients live long past the time the doctor first predicted. Others live a shorter time. Unexpected events happen every day. The best we can do is to try to live fully and for today.”

Do you have tips for helping a loved one through a terminal diagnosis? Please share with us.

1Michelle Tauber with Michelle Tan. Patrick Swayze, 1952-2009. People. September 28, 2009.
Photo courtesy dyeing4art via