Facing an uncertain future when you have advanced cancer
Coping with physical changes
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You may find that you easily become very tired, and that your body is no longer as strong and reliable as it once was. This may be because of the cancer or because of the side effects of treatment. You may feel as though you have no strength and that everything is more of an effort. It can be difficult to adjust if you can no longer drive or take part in sports, or have to walk more slowly than before. It will take time for you to get used to these changes and to accept having to rest, or the loss of activities that you once took for granted.
If your energy is limited, save it for the things you really want to do. Very often, re-organising your daily activities can be helpful - for example, by setting aside a time to rest every day. In addition, practical aids such as wheelchairs can be useful. You may feel that by using a walking stick, frame or wheelchair you are ‘giving in’ to your illness, but they can greatly improve your quality of life. They may allow you to move around more than you could on your own.
Spiritual and religious issues
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Some people find that they become more aware of religious or spiritual feelings when they are told their cancer has come back or spread. People with a religious faith are often greatly supported by it during their illness. Other people may find that, perhaps for the first time in their lives, they need to think about and discuss spiritual issues. They may start thinking about whether there is a life after death. They may find comfort through prayer. Many people gain a great deal of support from knowing that other people are praying for them.
Even if you haven’t attended religious services regularly in the past or aren’t sure what you believe, you can still talk to a priest, rabbi, imam or other religious leader. They are used to dealing with uncertainty and won’t be shocked. They are not there to preach to you, but to comfort and help you find peace of mind.
If you are in hospital, you can ask for a visit from a hospital chaplain or other religious or spiritual leader. Some people find themselves questioning their faith - again talking to a spiritual leader may be of help.
Even if your cancer is advanced, you can still have hopes and dreams. Hope is a basic part of our everyday life. It keeps us going from day to day. But it’s particularly important in difficult times.
Some people with cancer say that they have a better appreciation of the ordinary things in life, such as family and friends, hobbies, a favourite book, picture or piece of music. Many people find their lives are more focused and they are less irritated by day-to-day problems. But remember that not everyone feels like this and some people’s attitudes and outlook continue as they always have.
Knowing that your illness may not be curable can give you an opportunity to decide what’s important to you, and how you want to spend your time. You may have to give up some long-term plans, but you don’t have to abandon all your hopes and ambitions. You may find that you now have the time to take up an activity that you have always been too busy to do before. Concentrating on what you can achieve and enjoy can give you pleasure and may help you cope when you perhaps can’t meet other goals.
There is no right or wrong way to face this situation. Each person has to try to deal with this uncertainty in their own way and at their own pace.
Our section, dying with cancer
, discusses what happens at the end of life and has details of the practical and emotional support available for the person who is dying and the people close to them.