Coping with your feelings about advanced cancer

It is natural to have a range of feelings when you have advanced cancer but there is help available.

Your feelings

It is common to have many different emotions when coping with advanced cancer. You may feel uncertain and frightened about the future. Or angry and sad about your situation and the effect the cancer is having on you and those close to you.

There is no right or wrong way to feel. Difficult feelings usually become easier to manage with time and support from family, friends and healthcare professionals.


Feeling that you have some control in your life may make you feel secure. But being told your cancer is advanced can take away that feeling. You may worry about how you will cope as the cancer develops. Or you may be concerned about practical issues, such as your work or finances. Uncertainty can be hard to deal with as it is difficult to make plans when you do not know what is going to happen.

Thinking about what you can control right now can help. For example, you can still make choices about treatment, or how you use your time.


Many people with advanced cancer feel frightened. You may feel afraid of:

  • the illness itself
  • its symptoms
  • the treatment and possible side effects.

You may be worried about the future, or about dying. Often, talking through what may or may not happen can make it less frightening. You may find your fears are worse than the reality. Talking to a professional, such as a nurse or counsellor, can help you plan for what might happen. This can help reduce your fears.


It is common to feel angry if you have advanced cancer. You may feel angry about being unwell and having to cope with treatment and side effects. You might also be angry about the impact the cancer has had on your life and your future. For example, it may have affected your ability to work or your relationships.

You may get angry with your family, friends or partner. Tell them you are angry at your illness and not at them. Finding ways to relax can help with anger.

You may feel angry about some aspects of your healthcare. For example, you may be frustrated if there are problems with getting test results or having certain treatments. Talk to your doctors if this is the case.

Feelings about death and dying

Some people feel calm about the fact they are going to die. But others are frightened by the thought.

Dying is something that will happen to all of us. But it is not something that is easy to talk about. Most people do not talk about it very much. Your doctor or specialist nurse can talk to you about death and dying.

They will do their best to answer your questions. They can also help you have difficult conversations with people close to you.

There are also events called ‘death cafés’ which are safe places to meet with other people to talk about death. There are no agendas or objectives at a death café meeting. They are led by someone who helps guide and support the conversation.

Being with others who are having similar feelings and emotions can make it easier to talk about your own feelings. Death cafes are held in different places, such as a library or community hall. Some hospices help with these and have dates of when and where they are being held locally. Visit to find out more about where and when death café meetings are happening.

Talking about your feelings

Everyone expresses and manages their feelings differently. Sometimes it may be clear you are angry or upset. But sometimes, one emotion can hide another. For example, you might feel scared but show this by being angry or irritable. People close to you may not realise how you are feeling and how much you might be struggling. It may even be hard for you to understand why you are behaving in a certain way.

Talking about your feelings can help. But it is not always easy to do. It is important to talk to someone you trust. This might be a close friend, partner or family member. They may be able to give you the support you need.

Your loved ones may tell you to be positive. No one feels positive all the time, and it can be very difficult when the future is uncertain. Try telling them that you know they are trying to help, but it is hard to feel positive sometimes.

You may find it easier to talk to a healthcare professional. Your GP, specialist nurse or healthcare team at the hospital can support you. They will usually ask how you are feeling at appointments, and this can give you a chance to talk. Or you could tell them you are struggling with your feelings and would like to talk to someone. This is the time to be kind to yourself and ask for any help and support you need. If you are finding it very difficult to cope with your feelings about cancer, you may need more specialised emotional support. This could be from a counsellor or psychologist. If you think you may need this, ask your GP or cancer doctor to refer you.

Related pages

Things you can do yourself

There are other things you can do to help you cope with your feelings. You could keep a diary or journal so you can write down your thoughts and feelings. This can include good feelings as well as harder ones. If other people are finding it hard to understand how you are feeling, you could show them part of your journal.

Thinking about what you can control may help. It can help to stop worrying about what may happen in the future and focus on what you can do now. You might want to become more involved in your care. Or you may want to think about what you can do to look after yourself.

Many people use complementary therapies to help them cope with symptoms, stress or anxiety. These therapies include:

  • meditation
  • visualisation
  • relaxation
  • aromatherapy
  • mindfulness.

You can learn about many of these methods on YouTube, or through podcasts and downloads. You can listen to them whenever you want. But make sure they are from a reliable source. It should be clear who has produced them and that they are regularly updated.

Spiritual, religious or pastoral support

Spirituality can mean different things to different people. It may be religious, or it may be expressed in other ways. This can be through music, arts, nature, or how you relate to your family or community.

Many people find their faith offers them emotional support and strength during their illness. Some people may find they become more aware of religious or spiritual feelings. Others may find themselves questioning their faith.

Most people need to have a sense of meaning in their lives and to feel they are loved and valued. If you are seriously ill, having some hope and being at peace with your situation can also be important.

You may find it helpful to talk through your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. This may be a close friend, partner or family member, a health and social care professional or a chaplain or religious leader. You can speak to a chaplain or religious leader even if you are not religious. They are usually good listeners and may be able to help you work out your thoughts and feelings. They are used to dealing with uncertainty and being with people who are distressed.

You may prefer to talk to someone who is not religious. Humanists UK have volunteers who can offer non-religious pastoral support. Your GP, specialist nurse or cancer doctor may also be able to help you find a non-religious counsellor or pastoral carer to talk to. You can search for counsellors on The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website.

You can find information about spiritual issues on the Marie Curie website.

Medicines that can help

You may be finding it very hard to cope. Your GP, cancer doctor or palliative care doctor may be able to give you medicines to help. These may be anti-depressants, anxiety-reducing drugs or sleeping pills. Anti-depressants can take a few weeks to start working properly. Medicines are not likely to change how you think about things, but they can help you feel better.

We have more information about the emotional effects of cancer and what can help you to cope.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our advanced cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    Health Improvement Scotland/ NHS Scotland. Scottish Palliative Care Guidelines. Available from [accessed Nov 2021].

    NICE. End of life care for adults: service delivery. NICE guideline NG142 [Internet]. 2019. Available from [accessed Nov 2021].

    NICE. Improving supportive and palliative care for adults with cancer. Cancer service guideline CSG4 [Internet]. 2004. Available from [accessed Nov 2021].

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Viv Lucas, Consultant in Palliative Medicine.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 October 2022
Next review: 01 October 2025
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.