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Difficult questions when you are dying

You might have difficult questions that you want to ask when you know you only have a short time left to live.

Probably the most common question is 'how long do I have' and 'what will happen'. No one can predict the future, but your doctor and nurses should be able to help with these to some extent.

You are likely to have many other questions for your medical staff and for close friends and family. Some of these will also be very hard to answer. But it is very important to talk about your concerns. Even if you know there are no complete answers to these questions, you might still feel it’s important to ask.

How long have I got left to live?

People with cancer and their families often want to know how long a person is expected to live. Your doctor won’t be able to give you an exact answer. Everyone is different and no one can say exactly how long you will live. But do ask if you feel you need to. You can explain that you don‘t expect them to be completely accurate, but that you need to plan the time you have left.

Your doctor might be able to give you an estimated time, based on how long other people with your type and stage of cancer have lived. Remember that your doctor’s answer is an estimate. The actual time could be shorter or longer than they say.

It’s easier for doctors to estimate a likely time if they have been treating you for a while and they know you well. The doctors and nurses you see regularly will have an idea of how things are going for you.  You could find it extremely difficult if your doctors tell you that you only have a very short time left (for example, weeks). You might have to make some serious decisions based on this information.

It might feel very strange if you live longer than your doctor estimates. Some people say they feel as though other people are waiting for them to die. It can help to talk this through with someone.

What will it be like when I am dying?

Dying from cancer is usually a process that happens a bit at a time.

Your body will get weaker and eventually start to shut down. This may happen over weeks and then days in the final stages.

Many people worry that they will be in pain or discomfort when they die. But your doctors and nurses will focus on keeping you comfortable and pain free.

Some people want to know who will be with them. And they want to know what will happen to their body once they die.

Other questions

You might also have other questions, such as:

  • How will my family cope without me?
  • What will happen to my children?
  • Where will I be looked after?
  • Will I be conscious at the end?
  • What will happen at the very end?

Don't be afraid to ask your healthcare team any questions that are concerning you.