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Feelings you may have

You’re likely to feel many different emotions throughout your illness. These may fluctuate quickly, and at some points you may experience several feelings at once.

However hard it might be, try not to push what you're feeling aside. If possible, speak to someone you trust about them or explore other ways of coping.

On this page:

Denial

You may decide that the best way to cope with your situation is to deny it’s happening. This won’t necessarily be a conscious decision. It could just be that knowing and talking about your condition as little as possible is what works best for you right now.

If you feel like this, it’s ok to be firm with the people around you who want to talk. However, if denial starts to get in the way of your treatment or makes your overall situation worse, you may need to seek help from a psychologist or counsellor.

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Anger

At some point, you’re likely to feel anger and resentment. This is a normal and natural reaction. You may want to shout, “Why me?” or “Why this illness?”. This could happen if your symptoms weren’t taken seriously, or you feel the most appropriate investigations or treatment weren’t carried out.

Feeling unwell, having to undergo treatment and coping with the side effects might also make you angry. You might feel annoyed about how your condition has affected your life and relationships or caused you to cancel long-term plans. If you’re distressed by the anger you’re feeling, there are people you can talk to.

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Guilt

Many people with a terminal illness experience guilt. Sometimes this is because they blame their own lifestyle choices for their illness, or worry they could have noticed their symptoms sooner. Some people feel that they’re being a burden, or are in some way responsible for their treatment not working.

Try to remember that worrying is unlikely to make you feel better. If possible, look ahead and live your life the best you can.

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Fear

It’s natural to feel frightened and anxious. Most of all, you’re likely to be scared of dying or being in pain. You might be fearful of how your illness will affect you physically and emotionally. You may also be concerned about your treatment and any side effects.

Many people also become fearful about the effect their illness and death will have on those around them. However you feel, know that you’re not alone. It’s also worth knowing that people’s fears are often different from the reality. As well as your family and friends, there are professionals, including your doctor and nurses, who can reassure you and help you manage your fear.

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Depression

Most people feel low or sad some of the time. It’s normal to have ups and downs. But when feelings like sadness and anxiety last for months without changing, it may be depression.  

Depression is a medical illness that can affect your ability to eat and sleep. It can also have an impact on your hygiene, social activities and work.

If you think you’re depressed and feel unable to do anything, speak to your doctor who can help you get the treatment you need.

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Feeling alone

Loneliness is a common feeling for people with a terminal illness. This may be down to feeling different, not having as much social contact with people or because of changes in appearance due to illness or treatment.

Often, telling family and friends how you’re feeling will help. Sometimes, however, you can feel that even loved ones won’t understand what you’re going through. This may be the time to speak to someone in your healthcare team or a counsellor, or members of a support group or online community who have been through a similar experience.

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Frustration

Accepting that your life and capabilities have changed can be difficult and frustrating. This feeling may be increased by uncertainty around what will happen, which makes it hard to plan for the future.

Uncertainty is one of the hardest things to deal with following a terminal diagnosis and can cause a lot of tension. But there are different ways of learning to live with these feelings. For many people, it can help to take small steps to regain some control over your life.

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Acceptance

Not all people with a terminal illness are able to accept the idea of dying. Reaching this stage takes time and can involve long discussions with family, friends or professionals who are caring for you. You might also go through a difficult journey of emotions, including denial, anger and depression.

People who do accept their situation often feel a greater sense of calm and start to have more positive thoughts. Acceptance may also make you feel more in control of your situation and help you lead a fuller, more active life.

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Looking for meaning

During your illness, you may start to review your life and its purpose. This could involve thinking about experiences you’ve had and important events and relationships.

A review of your life so far may also remind you of conversations and activities that need to take place before death, and conflicts you’d like to resolve.

Thinking about your life can lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety and depression, but it can also be a positive experience which gives you a sense of accomplishment.

When you’re ready, you can discuss your thoughts about your end of life and how you want the arrangements to be handled by those around you.

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External websites

Counselling directory  

It’s good to talk   – counselling and psychotherapy

Samaritans   – talk to someone in confidence (UK-wide)

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