How To Cope With A Terminal Illness

14 May 2022 | End of life care

Nothing can prepare you for being told you have a terminal illness. You will likely experience a range of emotions over time including shock, fear, sadness, anger and acceptance. There’s no right or wrong way to feel or react. Just so many things to think about and an array of emotions to navigate.

Getting the diagnosis of a terminal illness

Finding out you have a health condition that can’t be cured can be a frightening experience. The shock can prevent you from absorbing all the information. Where possible, have a relative or friend attend the appointment with you. If you are alone, ask for a follow-up appointment so you can return with someone to support you. Another option is to use your mobile phone to record the appointment so you can refer back to it later. Your doctor should have no concerns with this.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find out what support is available to you and if there is additional specialist support available. Your GP will be able to advise you on what support is available locally to you. 

Use the internet (or ask someone to help you) to search for support directly relating to your diagnosed health condition. These sites will have information and support directly relating to your illness.

Typical feelings after a terminal diagnosis

Remember, there is no right or wrong way to feel. Here are some typical emotions you may feel:

  • shock
  • fear
  • anger
  • resentment
  • denial
  • helplessness
  • sadness
  • frustration
  • relief
  • acceptance

You may also feel lonely even when surrounded by loved ones. This is normal but you don’t need to suffer alone. Keep talking and let those closest to you support you.

Common responses following a terminal diagnosis

  • Denial – is difficult for all involved. It can prevent you from getting much-needed treatment and support from loved ones.
  • Acceptance – This can take time, but if achieved, can allow you to feel more calm, positive and in control.
  • Looking for meaning – You may start to think about life and its purpose or start to look to an existing or new spiritual belief, faith or philosophy that helps you cope with your emotions and any questions you have. Talking to someone can help.
  • Bargaining – From a feeling of desperation you are tormented with thoughts of ‘I’ll do anything to make all this stop’. Talking to a professional or support network can help you 

How to cope with a terminal diagnosis

Talk about feelings

You can talk to your partner, relative, friend, health professional, counsellor or spiritual guide. Your family will also be devastated by the news of your diagnosis so you may find some discussions are best had with someone who is not close to you.

Ask questions

Being told you have a life-limiting condition leaves you living with uncertainty. You’ll have many questions about how your illness will start to affect you physically and how much time you’ve got left. 

Ask your doctor or nurse about local support groups for people who are living with a life-limiting illness, or for people who have the same condition as you. They can also talk you through making an end of life care plan.

Move slowly one step at a time

Not knowing exactly what’s going to happen to you can feel overwhelming and upsetting. Take one day at a time. You don’t have to make all the big decisions at once.


Take time to do things you enjoy or that make you feel good. Maybe you can share these moments with a friend or relative, such as going for a spa day or having lunch in a nice restaurant.

Accept the help offered to you. You don’t have to continue doing it all yourself. If a friend wants to fill your freezer with meals or drive you to your appointments, let them.

Get Help

Accepting professional support can help ease the pressures of daily life. Eximius’ caring and compassionate companions can support you in your own home. From helping you keep your home running smoothly and keeping you company, right through to any complex care needs you may have as your illness progresses, Eximius can help. 

If you’d like to learn more we’d love to chat, so get in touch.

The Dying Matters website provides a range of resources for people affected by terminal illnesses as well as an online community.

You may also be interested in end of life care for people with dementia.