Coping day-to-day with advanced cancer

Coping day-to-day with advanced cancer can be an uncertain and worrying time, but you don’t have to cope on your own. Try talking to your doctor or nurse to find out what support is available in your area.

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 can be helpful to find out more about your cancer and how to get the best from your cancer services.

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’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 have concerns about practical matters such as your work or finances. You may be worried about your treatment, pain or other symptoms, loss of independence or mobility. You may be concerned about how you will cope as your cancer develops. These are all common thoughts people have.

Uncertainty is one of the hardest things to deal with. It can cause a lot of tension. You may feel irritable, angry and frightened. It’s difficult to make plans when you don’t know what’s ahead. And even if you ask your doctors what’s likely to happen, you may find their answers are vague because they can’t say for sure.

This uncertainty can be very hard to cope with, especially when you’re trying to live life as normally as possible. There are different ways of learning to live with uncertainty. Many people find it helpful to take control of the things they can do something about.

We have more information about coping with difficult feelings such as uncertainty.

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

Ask for information and help

There may be times when you feel the cancer is on your mind all the time. It can also feel like lots of things are happening that are out of your control. You may find that once you’ve dealt with some of your worries, you feel less anxious.

You don’t have to cope with your fears on your own. There are places you can turn to for practical advice, medical information, emotional support or spiritual comfort. Try talking to your specialist doctor or nurse for information about what’s available in your area.

Try to get the most out of your appointments with your medical team. It can help to prepare some 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’re worried about things like how your cancer may affect your daily life, you may feel better by finding out more about it.

We have more information to help you get the best from your cancer services. It includes suggestions for questions to ask about your treatment, and questions to ask about supportive and palliative care.

Try to identify a few key people you can talk openly to and ask anything. 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’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, try making a list of things you need help with. You could ask 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 favours. But you’ll probably find your friends and neighbours are happy to be given specific things they can do for you.

You might find our information about coping with family life and work helpful.

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.

You may want to think about your lifestyle and making some changes. It’s important to eat a balanced diet, with lots of fruit and vegetables, and less fat and sugar. This will help you maintain or regain your strength. It can also give you more energy and improve your well-being. Drinking less alcohol and stopping smoking can also help you feel more in control of your general health.

If you feel well enough to be physically active, 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. If you haven’t recently been very physically active, due to treatment or symptoms, then you should start slowly. Build up the amount that you do gradually. You may need to avoid some types of physical activity 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.

We have more information about leading a healthy lifestyle which you might find helpful. It has tips about eating well, keeping active and giving up smoking.

Complementary therapies can be a good way of helping you cope with some of the stresses caused by cancer and its treatments. Many therapies are relaxing, and having an enjoyable experience may lift your spirits when you aren’t feeling your best. Some complementary therapies can also help relieve symptoms or side effects caused by cancer or its treatments. Many therapies can be done at home using CDs or podcasts, such as relaxation and visualisation.

I’m eating a lot more fruit and vegetables, and I’m feeling much more energetic.

Yvonne, about eating well with cancer

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.

What is CPR?

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be used to try to restart the heart and breathing if they have stopped.

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.