There are many truths in this world, but there is one that stands above all others. That absolute fact is that every man, woman, and child alive on the planet today will one day meet their end. Just as day follows night or thunder follows lightning, it will happen. Dying is as much a part of life as being born.
As we continue to barrel through the 21st century, terminal cancer is one of the most common causes of death in the developed world. Whether living in a modern world has increased the rate of terminal cancers or advances in medical technology have resulted in a greatly increased ability to identify and diagnose terminal cancer is a legitimate debate. However, this question isn’t an important one for this article.
What is Terminal Cancer?
To explain terminal cancer, we first need to know what constitutes a terminal illness. A terminal illness can be described as an illness or disease from which the patient is not expected to recover.
Terminal Cancer is a particular type of terminal illness. You can refine any terminal cancer definition to add more information. Terminal cancer is a diagnosis in which a patient suffering from the disease will die within a very short time. This can be anything from a week or a few months. All available treatment options have confirmed a terminal cancer diagnosis.
Facts and Figures
From the American Cancer Society:
- In 2013, 580,000 cancer deaths were reported in the United States alone.
- Lung cancer accounted for over 25 percent of deaths in both men and women.
- Over 1.6 million new cancer cases were expected in the US, with prostate (men) and breast (women) being the most prevalent.
- African American men have the highest cancer death rate, Asian/Pacific Island women have the lowest cancer death rate in the US.
- 1 of every 3 men and 1 of every 2 women will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime
From the World Health Organization:
- Over 8.2 million people died of cancer worldwide in 2012
- Using tobacco is the biggest risk factor for developing any cancer. Tobacco use caused over 20 percent of cancer deaths and about 70 percent of lung cancer deaths worldwide
- It is estimated that yearly cancer cases will increase from 14 million in 2012 to 22 million within 20 years.
In the years 2003 – 2009, the deadliest types of cancer by the percentage of patients deceased within 5 years following diagnosis: are:
- Pancreatic cancer – 94 percent
- Liver cancer – 83.9 percent
- Lung cancer – 83.4 percent
- Esophageal cancer – 82.7 percent
- Stomach cancer – 72.3 percent
- Brain cancer – 66.5 percent
- Ovarian cancer – 55.8 percent
- Leukemia – 44 percent
- Laryngeal cancer – 39.4 percent
- Oral cancer – 37.8 percent
Terminal Cancer Symptoms
While the signs and symptoms of terminal cancer will vary depending on the type of cancer, the following list contains a few symptoms that are common to most.
- Fatigue – Cancer-related fatigue is usually defined as an unusual and near-constant feeling of extreme tiredness. It is usually more severe than the tiredness healthy individuals feel every day. Many with cancer feel that fatigue is the most distressing symptom of their disease. It’s also extremely common with advanced cancers.
- Pain – Pain associated with cancer can range from annoyance to debilitating. Chronic pain can cause irritability, poor sleep, decreased appetite, and decreased concentration. Who can well manage pain in terminal cancer patients with medication
- Changes in Appetite – As cancer progresses, it is not unusual for the patient’s activity level to decrease. The body needs fewer calories to support the reduced activity level, and the appetite for food also decreases. Pain and medication can also result in losing appetite and weight loss.
- Breathing Problems – Problems with breathing or shortness of breath is also very common symptom in terminal cancer patients, like pain; they can well manage it with the proper medication or combination of medications.
Resources for Terminal Cancer Patient
The reactions of people that have been diagnosed with terminal cancer can be as varied as the different types of cancer. Therefore, there is no ‘one size fits all’ words of advice for those diagnosed as terminally ill. However, a terminal cancer patient will likely have many questions about their illness following the diagnosis.
The primary oncologist is more often than not the most immediate resource for the patient and should be more than willing to answer any questions that may arise. However, questions usually arise after the patient has left the doctor’s office. Fortunately, there are many resources available for the patient that can access at their convenience and in the privacy of their own home.
One such resource for terminal cancer patients is the National Cancer Institute; the National Cancer Institute publishes a website at www.cancer.org. This website is filled with information for the support and care of terminally ill patients.
The website includes links to factsheets for end-of-life care, home health, and hospice care, and psychological stress caused by cancer, to name a few.
Another resource found on the internet and becoming increasingly popular with those with terminal cancer are weblogs – or blogs. Many patients find comfort in sharing their stories with others in the same situation, supporting others with a terminal illness, keeping up to date with the latest treatment and drugs, or staying in touch. A terminal cancer blog is one method for the patient to regain control over their life.
Advice for Friends and Loved Ones of a Terminal Cancer Patient
Friends and families of loved ones are also forced to cope with difficult, delicate, and sometimes awkward situations as cancer runs its course in the patient.
Again, the same advice will not be right in every situation, and every situation will have unique challenges. The best advice for friends or family is to have an open and honest discussion with the patient or the spouse, significant other, closest relative, etc., to determine if, how, and when Who should discuss the patient’s illness.
Who can apply some common-sense ideas for friends and loved ones trying to cope with a terminally ill patient in most cases? These include:
- Lean on sympathetic friends and family members. If someone you know has gone through a similar situation, ask for advice.
- Attend a support group meeting or join an online support group.
- Read books and articles that may be pertinent to your situations to find advice or topics of conversation.
- Discuss your concerns or questions with caregivers who have experience caring for terminal cancer patients.
- Ask a doctor to help.
- Seek spiritual guidance, if appropriate
Many websites are set up to help friends and family of the dying deal with their emotions, questions, etc.
As mentioned earlier in the article, the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov) is an excellent resource for friends and family of the dying. It contains many articles and links to other sites for practically any subject or question relating to terminal illness.
Depression and the Terminally Ill Cancer Patient
Patients who are terminally ill must deal with unreal psychological and physical stresses. Patients can feel more depressed as their cancer progresses towards the end of their lives. Some patients may try to ignore symptoms of depression and avoid talking with their doctor.
Some doctors are not trained to recognize depression or may not wish to treat the condition with medication for fear of possible side effects of antidepressant medications.
If depression is not treated, it can reduce the quality of life for patients and lead to a faster death for terminally ill patients.
The American College of Physicians has recommended doctors regularly check terminal patients for depression and focus on suicidal thoughts, among other things.
Treating depression in the dying patient should contribute positively to the physical and emotional comfort of patients.
Options for treating depression in the terminal cancer patient can include one or all of:
Untreated depression can increase the risk of suicide. This is especially true for terminally ill older men.
It is extremely unlikely that a diagnosis of terminal cancer will ever be a cause for celebration in whatever form it may take.
Facing the end of life will lead to seemingly endless questions and emotions. However, these questions and feelings are not exclusive to the terminal cancer patient. Family, friends, and even caregivers will be affected by the diagnosis in many different ways.
As is often the case, knowledge can help overcome fear, particularly fear of the unknown. There is a wealth of free information and advice available online to terminal cancer patients and others affected by the disease.
- 8 Warning Signs of Cervical Cancer
- 10 Things Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer
- 10 Foods that Prevent Cancer
- Important Facts About Colorectal Cancer You Need to Know
- Facts About Ovarian Cancer
- 10 Most Common But Deadliest Cancers
In the darkest of times, may there be some comfort in knowing that there are answers to your questions?