When other people find out you are dying

When other people find out your news, it can help to know how they might react and how you can talk to them about this.

Generally, the people who love you will feel as shocked and overwhelmed as you do. Sometimes, friends and relatives react in ways that you might not find that helpful. Like you, they might go through a range of emotions.


People around you are likely to be in shock. They probably don’t quite know how to react. They might try to cope by keeping busy, rather than dealing with the pain of what your death means to them.

It can help to try to be patient, and give people time to let things sink in.

Pretending nothing is wrong

People close to you could try to keep their feelings to themselves so they don’t upset you. Others might try to be cheerful and pretend that nothing is wrong.

This might hurt and make you feel as if they don’t care. You might want them to be more realistic and allow you to express your feelings. You might also feel angry if you feel that you can’t talk to them honestly. 


You might find that you argue with your family or loved ones. You may have misunderstandings without knowing why.

This often happens when everyone is under pressure emotionally. You might all need to work together to find the best way to cope with what is happening.

Not knowing what to say

Some friends might find it too difficult to know what to say and could stop contacting you. This can be hard to bear. But it’s possible that they just don’t know how to cope.

You could get in touch and ask for their help with a specific task. This might be the excuse they need to feel useful and feel more comfortable with your situation.

Or you might find it better to give them time and space to deal with things in their own way.


Some of your relatives might be angry with the doctors or nurses. This might particularly be the case if there are unanswered questions or concerns about the care you have received. Or they could seem angry with you, as if they feel you're giving up and not fighting the cancer hard enough.

This can be difficult to cope with if you feel very tired because of your cancer and treatment.

It might help to understand that people react like this because of their own fears. They might be afraid of death itself. Or they might fear the emotions that talking about it might bring up. The anger isn’t because they don’t care about what you're going through. It's more likely to be because they are scared of losing you.

Being overprotective

Sometimes people try to be too helpful. They want to protect you from everything and jump up to help you every time you move.

They can act as though you can’t do anything for yourself. This can make you feel frustrated or angry.

Talking about difficult issues

In any family, it's very common for some people to ask difficult questions that you don’t feel ready to answer. Other people might avoid the subject altogether.

Within your family and close friends, try to give each other space to ask questions and to try to answer them as fully as you can. 

You could ask your doctor or nurse to explain things to your family and answer any questions that they might have. You can decide whether you want to be there, or not. You would need to give your doctor or nurse permission to talk about your situation.

Your partner

If you have a partner, they will probably want to help and support you in the best way they can. Some people can do this very well. But some can be too anxious to know what to do for the best.

You will need to work out together what you need most. Don’t be afraid to ask. Most loving partners will be thankful for some guidance, so they can be more confident they’re really helping.

Intimacy and sex

There might be times when you can’t be as intimate as you would like to be with your partner. There may be physical reasons for this. For example, cancer in your bones could mean you are physically very sensitive, so that even a gentle hug may hurt.

But it could also be that you feel sad and frightened. When this happens it’s very natural to withdraw and to resist getting close to your partner. You might also worry that being intimate could release very intense, uncontrollable feelings.

It might help to explain this to your partner if you can. Then they know a little about why you don’t feel able to be intimate with them.

Withdrawing from your partner might make you feel anxious and isolated. Just sitting holding hands, lying down together or cuddling can be a great comfort to some couples during such difficult times. 

Being supportive

Although some of the people close to you might not know the best way to support you, many will. And the ones who don’t cope well at first might become more supportive later. This could happen once they have got over the initial shock and begun to come to terms with things.

Some people with terminal cancer rely on their family for their support. Other people lean on their friends for support more than family. This could happen if your family isn't nearby, or if you're not close to them emotionally. You might find it easier to talk to friends about concerns that you think could upset your family. Friends and neighbours can sometimes offer more practical help and support. So don't be afraid to ask if you need help.

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