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 the effects of treatment or practical things, such as your work and finances.

It can help to talk about your situation with family members or friends and ask for help with practical tasks. Neighbours or people from a local carers’ or cancer support group may also be able to help.

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

It is important to look after yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Remember to take any medicines you have been prescribed.
  • Try to eat as healthily as you can.
  • If your appetite is poor, ask your GP to refer you to a dietician.
  • Stay physically active if you feel well enough, to help improve symptoms.

Some people also use complementary therapies to help them cope.

Coping with day-to-day life

Being diagnosed with advanced cancer can mean living with doubt and uncertainty. You may worry about:

  • your treatment, pain or other symptoms
  • losing your independence or mobility
  • the effect of the cancer on your family and friends
  • how you will cope as the cancer develops.

You may be concerned about practical issues, such as your work or finances. It is understandable and natural to have these concerns.

Uncertainty can be one of the hardest things for you, your family and your friends to deal with. It may cause a lot of tension. You might feel irritable, angry or frightened. These feelings can make it difficult to live life the way you would like to.

It is difficult to make plans when you do not know what is going to happen. You can ask your healthcare team about this. But they may only be able to give you an idea of what will happen, because they do not know for sure.

Many people find they can learn to live with uncertainty. There are some things that can help.

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 can think about. It may feel as if many things are happening that are out of your control. You may find you feel more in control by:

  • understanding what is happening to you
  • making decisions about things you can do something about.

You may find that once you have dealt with some of your worries, you feel less anxious.

Ask for information and help

Some people feel very alone when they have been diagnosed with advanced cancer. But you do not have to cope with worries and fears on your own. There are people and places who can give you:

  • medical information
  • emotional and psychological support
  • spiritual comfort
  • practical advice.

Talk to your GP, or your specialist doctor or nurse at the hospital, for information about what is available in your area. You can also talk to one of our cancer support specialists on the Macmillan Support Line. Just call 0808 808 00 00.

You may be worried about things like how your cancer may affect your day-to-day life. Finding out more can help you feel better. Try to get the most out of appointments with your medical team. It can help to think about and write down any questions you want to ask before you see them. Take a notepad to write down notes during your appointment so you do not forget what was discussed. Your doctor or nurse at the hospital will do their best to answer your questions.

You want to get things done as time is precious. But things have to go on as usual. You make the most of the important things in life.


Help from family and friends

It can often help to talk about your situation with someone you trust. Try to think of a few key people you can talk openly with. This could be:

  • your partner, if you have one
  • parents
  • your children, if they are older
  • close friends
  • colleagues.

Often neighbours or people from a local carers’ or cancer support group can also help.

If you feel overwhelmed with jobs to do, try making a list of things you need help with. You could ask your family or friends whether they could help with anything. This might be housework, gardening, looking after a pet or going to appointments with you. You may find it hard to ask people for help. But you will probably find people are happy to have specific things they can do for you. Accepting any offers of help can help to reduce stress and help you feel more in control.

Look after yourself


Remember to take any medications exactly as your doctor, nurse or pharmacist has explained. This might be:

  • treatment for the cancer
  • medicines to help prevent or reduce symptoms or side effects.

Keep an up-to-date list of your medicines at home. Take it with you to appointments and if you go to stay somewhere. Let any family, friends, or carers know where the list is. If you become unwell, they can tell health professionals what medications you are currently taking.

Healthy lifestyle

You may want to make some changes to your lifestyle. This can include trying to eat a healthy, balanced diet. This can help some people maintain or regain their strength. If your appetite is poor, you can ask your GP to refer you to a dietician. They can suggest what might help to build up your diet.

If you feel well enough, try doing some physical activity. It can improve symptoms such as tiredness (fatigue), pain, poor appetite, constipation and weak muscles. It can also help reduce stress and help you sleep better. You may not have been doing much physical activity because of treatment or symptoms. Start slowly and gradually increase the amount that you do.

Your doctor may suggest that you avoid certain types of physical activity. For example, this could be if 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

Some people find that complementary therapies are a good way of helping them cope with some of the stresses caused by the cancer and its treatments. A lot of the therapies are relaxing and enjoyable, and may improve your mood. Some can also help relieve any symptoms or side effects you have.

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

I have to accept the reality that I cannot do everything that I thought I might do but in general I try to get on with things.


Helen, Tony and Gemma pictured wearing Macmillan t-shirts

Helen, Tony and Gemma's story

Helen, Tony and Gemma all have metastatic cancer and explain how exercise makes them feel better.

Helen, Tony and Gemma's story

Helen, Tony and Gemma all have metastatic cancer and explain how exercise makes them feel better.

If you live alone

Living alone can add extra stresses. You may value your independence, but being ill can make you feel lonely and frightened.

You may have people you can ask for help. People who care about you will want to help. They might be able to do practical things such as shopping or gardening. You could make a list of things that would make your life easier.

Some people may be better at listening. You could talk to them about any worries you might have.

If you do not have anyone to help you, tell your GP, social worker, or district or community nurse. They will be able to tell you what help and support is available in your area.

Back to Coping with advanced cancer

Decisions about treatment

Your doctors will talk to you about your treatment options and help you decide what feels right for you.

Practical help

Different people can give you care and support at home, in a hospital or in a hospice, depending on your situation.

Making CPR decisions

You may be asked to make a decision with your family and healthcare team about whether you want cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to be attempted.