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Living with a terminal illness and looking for support? Our Support Line team are here to help. 

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Coping with your feelings

If you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness you may feel like there’s nothing that can be done to stop you feeling the way you do. The following suggestions have helped others in the same situation cope with difficult emotions. If you don’t feel ready for any of these things now, it’s worth trying them when you feel up to it and interested.

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Talk to family and friends

Speaking to someone you trust and feel comfortable with, such as a family member or friend, may be the best way to cope with your feelings. However, it’s good to be aware that people close to you may have different reactions to your illness.

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Take care of yourself

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet may help you cope with depression and boost your energy levels. Avoid a lot of alcohol and recreational drugs, as they can make depressed feelings worse. Doing activities you enjoy may also help to lift your mood.

Try not to be frustrated with yourself if you find it difficult to do things. Feeling better takes time and happens gradually. Set small goals and build up to them. Some days, just getting out of the house can be an achievement.

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Talk to your healthcare team

If a Marie Curie Nurse is caring for you, don’t hesitate to discuss your worries and feelings with them. You might also be able to get support from a local Marie Curie Hospice

Clinical nurse specialists will also be able to help and your doctor should be able to direct you to other sources of support. They may also prescribe you medication if you’re feeling depressed.

Prepare a list of questions that you’re ready to ask your healthcare professional about your care, your medication or your treatment.

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Talk to a counsellor

Many people with a terminal illness find it easier to talk to someone detached from their situation. Counsellors are trained to listen and help you work through your feelings.

You can find details of counsellors in your area by visiting the It’s good to talk   website. This site also offers lots of helpful information about what a counselling session involves.

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Join a support group

You may feel that the only person who can understand what you’re going through is someone who also has a terminal illness or the same condition as you. There are many local support groups throughout the UK. These involve people meeting to share their experiences, support each other and take part in a range of activities.

Your district nurse, Marie Curie Nurse, or another member of your healthcare team should be able to tell about support groups in your area. Many organisations linked to a specific condition, like cancer charities, have details of support groups on their websites. If you’re in England or Wales, you can also visit the GOV.UK website and search for community groups  .

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Chat online

Many organisations linked to a specific condition run online communities. These are websites where you can message and chat to other people. People with a serious or terminal illness often form strong relationships online in this way. It can help them cope with their emotions.

The Marie Curie Community   can be a good place to share your experiences or get support from people who understand your feelings.

Organisations like Macmillan Cancer Support  , Alzheimer’s Society  , British Heart Foundation  , Parkinson’s UK  , Multiple Sclerosis Society  , HealthUnlocked   and the Cancer Buddies Network   are also useful places to connect and share with people in a similar situation.

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Learn about other people’s experiences

Simply reading about how other people have coped with their illness may be helpful. You could do this by visiting an online community and reading other people’s posts without contacting anyone directly.

Many people have also written books   and online diaries about terminal illness. You can also watch videos of people talking about their terminal illness and feelings at HealthTalk Online  . Be aware that the way someone else copes may not necessarily work for you.

Think about keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings. You might also want to share it online.

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Religious and spiritual support

Some people with a terminal illness find that having a belief system or philosophy makes it easier for them to cope with their emotions. Other people start to question their beliefs following their diagnosis, wondering what the meaning of life is.

Whatever you’re feeling at the moment, you may find it helpful to speak to a hospital or hospice chaplain or religious leader to discuss your thoughts. Your nurse should also be able to help you get the right support so your religious or spiritual needs are met.

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Try a complementary therapy

Complementary therapies can help to control symptoms and make you feel better. Therapies include acupuncture, meditation, massage, relaxation techniques and reflexology.

Ask your district nurse, doctor or another member of your healthcare team about what’s available in your area. But always check with your doctor or hospital team before starting a therapy, as it may interfere with your treatment or medication.

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Try an art therapy

Art therapies involve expressing emotions through drawing, painting, photography or creative writing. Many people find this a safe and beneficial way to explore feelings such as fear, anxiety and depression and achieve a sense of freedom and self-confidence.

Speak to your district nurse or another member of your healthcare team about what’s available in your area. Some Marie Curie Hospices offer art therapies. You can also contact the British Association of Art Therapists   or Health and Care Professions Council  .

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The art classes are a great chance to get out and meet people in the same situation as yourself – people who have a terminal illness too. The classes are really therapeutic and help take your mind off everything. They help a lot. I’ve even done exhibitions with my art class.
Willie, who has a terminal illness

Try keeping active

If you have the time and energy, exercise may help with how you’re feeling. Studies have shown that many people with cancer and other illnesses benefit mentally and physically from keeping active. It can decrease stress, increase confidence and energy, and improve sleeping habits.

Exercise doesn’t have to mean a lot of activity. It could simply be playing with your children or grandchildren, doing some gardening or going for a walk. You can build up the amount of exercise you do in your own time.

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