Coping day-to-day with advanced cancer

Coping day-to-day with advanced cancer can be an uncertain and worrying time. You might be worried about your treatment and how it will affect you. Or you may worry about practical things such as your work and finances.

It’s fine to ask for help. Family members, friends or support groups can help provide emotional support. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help with practical tasks if you begin to feel overwhelmed.

It can be helpful to take control of the things you can do something about. You could find out more about your cancer and how to get the best from your cancer services. Try talking to your doctor or nurse to find out about what help is available in your area.

It’s important to look after yourself. Remember to take any medicines you’ve been prescribed and try to eat as healthy a diet as you can. Staying physically active if you feel well enough can help to improve symptoms. Some people also use complementary therapies to help them cope.

Day-to-day life with advanced cancer

Coping with advanced cancer can mean living with doubt and uncertainty. You may be concerned about practical matters, such as your work or finances. Or you may be worried about your treatment, pain or other symptoms, or about losing your independence or mobility. You may also be anxious about the effect of the cancer on those you love and how you will all cope as it develops. These are all common thoughts people have.

Uncertainty is one of the hardest things to deal with for you and your family and friends, especially when you are trying to live life as normally as possible. It can cause a lot of tension. You may feel irritable, angry and frightened. It is difficult to make plans when you don’t know what’s ahead. Even if you ask your doctors what is likely to happen, they may not be able to give you a full answer because they can’t say for sure.

However, many people find they can learn to live with uncertainty. One thing that can help is to take control of the things they can do something about.

Living with advanced cancer

Amanda talks about her experiences of living with advanced breast cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Living with advanced cancer

Amanda talks about her experiences of living with advanced breast cancer.

About our cancer information videos

What you can do

There may be times when you feel the cancer is all you think about. It can also feel like many things are happening that are out of your control. You may find that once you have dealt with some of your worries, you feel less anxious.

Ask for information and help

You don’t have to cope with your fears on your own. There are people and places you can turn to for medical information, emotional and psychological support, spiritual comfort and practical advice. Try talking to your GP, specialist doctor or nurse for information about what is available in your area. You can also talk things through with one of our cancer support specialists.

Try to get the most out of appointments with your medical team. It can help to prepare any questions you want to ask. Your doctor, palliative care nurse or a specialist nurse at the hospital will usually be able to answer most of your questions. If you are worried about things like how your cancer may affect your daily life, you may feel better by finding out more about it.

Try to think of a few key people you can talk openly with. They could be your partner, parents, grown-up children, close friends or colleagues, neighbours, or people from a local carers’ or cancer support group.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, try making a list of things you need help with. You could ask your family or friends whether they could help with anything, such as housework, gardening or looking after a pet. You may find it hard to ask people for help. But you will probably find your friends and neighbours are happy to be given specific things they can do for you, such as giving you a lift to an appointment.

Look after yourself


Remember to take any medications as prescribed. This might be treatment for the cancer, or medicines to help prevent or reduce symptoms or treatment side effects. Keep an up-to-date list of your medicines at home, and take it with you if you stay somewhere else.

Healthy lifestyle

You may want to make some changes to your lifestyle. Eating a healthy, balanced diet may help some people to maintain or regain their strength. It can also improve their well-being.

If you feel well enough, try doing some physical activity. It can improve symptoms such as fatigue, pain, poor appetite, constipation and weak muscles. It also helps reduce stress and can help you sleep better. You may not have done much physical activity recently, maybe due to treatment or symptoms. If this is the case, then you should start slowly and gradually build up the amount that you do.

You may need to avoid some types of physical activity. This may be advised if, for example, the cancer is in your bones or you have bone thinning. Ask your doctor or palliative care team for advice before you start.

Complementary therapies

These can be a good way of helping you cope with some of the stresses caused by the cancer and its treatments. A lot of the therapies are relaxing and enjoyable, which may help to lift your spirits. Some complementary therapies can also help relieve any symptoms or side effects you may have.

Many therapies, such as relaxation and visualisation, can be done at home using CDs or podcasts.

I am concentrating on a healthy diet and lifestyle and I will keep being positive. I will be doing what I want to do.


If you live alone

It may be very hard to keep positive and be optimistic if you live alone. Even though you may value your independence, being ill can make you feel very lonely and frightened.

It’s all right to ask for help. People who care about you will want to help in any way they can. Some people will find it difficult to talk, but may be happy to help in more practical ways, such as doing your shopping or helping with your garden. You could make a list of practical things that would make your life easier. If people offer to help but are not sure what to do, you can show it to them. They can then choose to do something that will help you.

Other people may be able to listen to you and share your worries and fears.

Marie Curie has a free helper service available in parts of the UK. Someone can come over for a cup of tea, help you get to an appointment, run an errand, or just be there to listen when you need a friendly ear. For more information, visit the Marie Curie website or call 0800 090 2309.

Your GP, social worker, or district or community nurse will also be able to tell you what help and support is available from health, social care and voluntary organisations.

Back to Coping with advanced cancer

Decisions about treatment

You may have lots of questions about your treatment options. You can talk to your doctors and nurses about these.

Who can help

You can get care and support at home, in a hospital or in a hospice. This depends on your needs and preferences.