“You have a terminal illness.” This single sentence completely changes a person’s life. Patients are shocked, and their intense emotions obliterate the rest of the conversation. Understanding how patients react to a terminal illness, such as cancer, the resulting psychological trauma, and individual coping styles lays the groundwork for compassionate but effective communication.
A terminal illness cannot be cured or treated (for a better prognosis) and will likely result in death within a few years. When a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness, they are likely to feel a wide range of emotions, including grief, regret, and sadness.
Family members, romantic partners, and friends are frequently affected by a person’s diagnosis. It may be beneficial for the person with a mental illness and support system members to seek professional counseling to discuss their feelings and come to terms with the diagnosis.
Hope and coping
Many patients try to make sense of their illness. According to the findings, 30 to 90 percent of patients with life-threatening diseases say they have been positively affected. To name a few, illness-related benefits include:
- A greater appreciation of life.
- A shift in priorities.
- Better interpersonal relationships.
- Increased spirituality.
Friendships and family become more important than financial or professional success. Many patients look forward to completing tasks before the illness’s incapacitating effects take hold.
To deal with the issues with a terminally ill diagnosis, patients need many coping skills. The importance of hope is repeatedly stated. When patients use active problem-solving strategies, they can cope successfully. These include redefining options, rethinking possibilities, and expressing feelings. As the disease progresses, coping strategies evolve.
Understanding the illness, treatments, and related side effects and the disease trajectory are all associated with successful coping, as are robust support systems, religion, and adequate financial resources. Denial is a coping strategy used by some patients. While it is not ideal, it allows them to live in the present and ignore the negatives.
Anger, denial, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are some of the adverse psychological effects of a terminal diagnosis. According to studies, up to 48% of cancer patients meet the criteria for clinical depression, and up to 25% meet the criteria for anxiety, both of which are treatable conditions. Suicide has also been linked to ineffective pain management, particularly in the elderly. Psychological assessment and intervention should be a part of ongoing treatment planning.
It’s possible that not talking causes a lot of anxiety near the end of life. The dying person and those around them are often hesitant to talk about what is going on because they believe it will negatively affect the other. Your palliative care team can assist the family in talking calmly about the process and not being alarmist about it, alleviating much of the anxiety and making it easier for everyone.