How to Deal with Terminal Illness

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how to deal with terminal illness

Coping with a terminal illness is not easy to process. It is a unique journey for everyone involved. Understanding more about terminal illness and discovering resources can make the process easier. 

What is a terminal illness?

A terminal illness is a disease or condition for which there is no cure. This means that the disease most likely leads to someone’s death. People with terminal illnesses can live for a matter of days, weeks, months, or years, depending on the severity. No matter how long, though, it is difficult to cope with. 

Diseases and conditions have their own unique set of qualities. There is no one list of specific conditions labeled as terminal, so a condition that may be harmless for one person could be more severe for another. 

A congenital disorder is a condition that someone acquires at birth. These can turn into terminal illnesses. An example of a congenital disease is a heart defect that can transform into a life-threatening issue. 

An acquired illness is a condition or disease that a person develops during their life. An example of this is cancer. Whether it is terminal or not depends on the severity. 

terminal illness

Is terminal illness the same as life threatening?

Terminal illness and life-threatening conditions are related but not the same. A terminal illness is a specific medical diagnosis indicating that a patient’s disease cannot be cured, and the patient’s death is expected within a relatively short period, typically within a few months to a few years. On the other hand, a life-threatening condition means that a person’s health or life is at serious risk, but it doesn’t necessarily imply an imminent, predetermined endpoint. A life-threatening condition may or may not be terminal.

Statistics to Consider

Coping with a terminal illness can have you feeling a range of emotions. No one can tell you how to handle your journey, but it may be helpful to understand some statistics. 

About 24% of patients with terminal cancer have been diagnosed with anxiety or a depressive order. This stat applies to cancer but can correlate to other conditions. Many people with a terminal illness experience consistent feelings of helplessness. Therefore, it may be worthwhile to reach out about what you are feeling.  About 37.4% of cancer patients who passed away in 2011 experienced palliative care. This number is expected to increase. It is essential to ask yourself if palliative care is the right choice for you.

How to Deal with a Diagnosis You Received?

You have a terminal illness. There is no way to describe your personal feelings upon diagnosis. Although, you may be feeling numb, overwhelmed, sadness, anger, or a unique combination of all emotions. It is difficult to accept, but you should come to terms with your illness. 

One of the best ways to feel empowered after realizing a terminal illness is to learn more about it. Ask your doctors or conduct your own research to understand the changes that you may experience. 

Coping with a terminal illness is difficult, and you can expect rougher days in the future. Therefore, forgive yourself in advance. Understand that it is okay to have bad days, but also remember that there are going to be good ones, as well. 

Dealing with a diagnosis can improve by setting your priorities and planning. Identify how and where you want to pass. Gather and coordinate all critical paperwork, like a will. Above all, find what you value most in life and go after it. Set your priorities so that you feel complete and more fulfilled. 

Tips for Coping With Terminal Illness

Coping with a terminal illness can be an emotional and challenging journey. Here are valuable tips to help navigate this difficult path:

  1. Select Who to Share With: Communication is vital. Confide in individuals you trust and with whom you can openly discuss your thoughts and feelings. Share your desires and your perception of a good quality of life. Don’t leave important things unsaid; if speaking is hard, consider writing in a journal or letters.
  2. Advance Care Directives: Ensure your healthcare preferences, like the use of ventilators or feeding tubes, are understood and upheld. Legal documents such as living wills, durable power of attorney for healthcare, or healthcare proxies should be in place.
  3. Plan Your Memorial: Consider your wishes for your funeral or memorial service. It provides a sense of control amid a loss of control over life’s aspects.
  4. Engage with Palliative Care: Palliative care can enhance hope, shifting from cure to quality of life. Seek support to manage physical and emotional challenges.
  5. Therapist with Expertise: Consult a therapist specializing in death, dying, and grief counseling. Their guidance is valuable for patients and their loved ones.
  6. Reflect on Life’s Priorities: Consider what enhances your quality of life, who you want to spend time with, and how you wish to spend it.
  7. Build a Support Team: Identify tasks and willing helpers. Family and friends can assist with practical matters and provide emotional support.
  8. Acknowledge Grief and Fear: Recognize that terminal illness involves a series of losses, and grief is a natural response. Encourage open sharing of fears and emotions.
  9. Communicate with Children: Share age-appropriate information about the illness, treatment, and death with children, ensuring they understand without becoming overwhelmed.
  10. Saying Goodbye: Express your goodbyes in your own time and manner, whether through words or actions, whenever you’re ready.

How to Deal with a Diagnosis a Loved One Received?

Finding out that a loved one has a terminal illness is not easy. Once again, there is no way to explain the emotions you feel. It is different for everyone. However, some things can help with processing the diagnosis and caring for your loved one

Be open to helping your loved one cope with the diagnosis. Tell them that you are there to listen and always volunteer your presence. Simply doing nothing but being by their side is comforting. 

Ask your family member what they want when they pass. Some want to be alone, while others want to be around family. If you want to keep a vigil, be sure to take of yourself and take breaks if needed. 

Continue to Take Care of Yourself or Loved One During a Pandemic

Amidst a global pandemic, taking care of yourself or a loved one can be difficult. However, always keep your priorities in mind. 

Follow trustworthy news sources and truthful updates. Reading the guidelines and updates from the Center for Disease Control is one of the best outlets. Additionally, follow any social distancing and stay-at-home orders. 

Everything that is happening can be overwhelming and scary. Remember that you can always reach out for support.

How Can Online Therapy Help?

Online therapy is a helpful resource for people who cannot receive in-person therapy. It is also beneficial for those who do not have the financial means to do so. Online therapy can assist terminal illness patients and families with their feelings. 

Therapy plays a crucial role in helping individuals and their families navigate the emotional upheaval that arises from a terminal diagnosis. For patients, a therapist assists in comprehending and managing the whirlwind of emotions accompanying such news. They provide guidance for coping with grief and facilitate effective communication with hospitalized patients’ loved ones. Additionally, therapy helps patients establish and prioritize their goals and desires during this challenging time.

Family members, too, can find solace nursing support through therapy. They require a space to process anticipatory grief, express emotions that might be challenging to share with terminally ill patients or family member, and deal with the painful reality of an impending loss. After the loss occurs, grief counseling and support are essential to manage complex emotions, including survivor’s guilt, tied to death, dying, and bereavement. Seek out a therapist specializing in grief and loss through online therapist directories.

5 Activities to Do With a Terminally Ill Family Member

Staying connected with a loved one facing the end of life can be profoundly meaningful. Here are five ways to maintain that connection:

  1. Engage in Conversation: If the person can communicate, discuss shared interests, family, or community events. Share memories, show pictures, or read together, adapting content to their comfort level. Humorous clips, Bible verses, or music they enjoy can be soothing.
  2. Nod-and-Shake Questions: For those unable to speak, ask yes/no questions and offer to read their favorite books, keeping content brief. Sharing current events, your day, or asking about their life experiences can provide comfort.
  3. Remember Together: Reflect on shared experiences and cherished memories. Encourage them to share stories about their life, from childhood to family and career.
  4. Offer Comforting Touch: Inquire if physical contact like holding hands, combing their hair, or applying lotion is welcome, always respecting their preferences for comfort.
  5. Saying Goodbye: While difficult, openly acknowledge the situation and express your love. Share your emotions, offer hugs, and express your feelings, reassuring them of your love and the impact they’ve had on your life.


Online therapy can act as a resource for those coping with a terminal illness. Additionally, your doctor may be able to guide you in a positive direction. Some hotlines allow people to speak anonymously. 


Dealing with a terminal illness is a unique process for every individual. It is a difficult path, but online therapy may be able to help make things a little lighter. 

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