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Coming to Terms With a Terminal Illness

Terminal illnesses are medical conditions that have no known cure or have advanced to the point where known treatments are ineffective. Approximately 1,500 people Americans die from cancer every day, and cancer is just one disease that can be fatal. Individuals diagnosed with dementia, lung disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and genetic diseases, such as Huntington’s disease, are terminal illnesses.

When you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness, your doctor will try to estimate your life expectancy, which could be affected by your choice to pursue treatment. Doctors can only provide an estimate, and their projections are often wrong. No matter how much time your doctors think you still have, there are some steps you can take to help you come to terms with your diagnosis and make the most of the time you have left.

Processing Your Diagnosis

Learning you have a terminal illness can be shocking. Although your physical health may have alerted you to the possibility, it’s natural to have a strong emotional response to an official diagnosis.

Some people struggle with denial. It can be beneficial to retain hope because hope can sustain you while receiving painful treatments or harsh medications for your condition. However, if your condition continues to deteriorate and treatments or medications are ineffective, you may be forced to confront your situation. It’s ideal to find a way to move past denial and accept your diagnosis while remaining hopeful that treatment will extend your life.


It’s normal to be angry or depressed after your diagnosis. It’s also natural to have conflicting emotions that change frequently. Since your mood can change regularly and impact those closest to you, you may benefit from therapy.

Mental health professionals can help you process your emotions and come to terms with your situation. Google “NYC psychiatry” to find qualified psychiatrists or psychologists in your area who can provide psychotherapy. One benefit of seeing a professional psychologist is that you can focus on your emotions. You may also be able to receive mental health care individually and with your family. Some therapists also offer group counseling. Joining a therapy group with other terminally ill patients can provide you with support from people who are dealing with the same thoughts and feelings you’re processing.

Spiritual Guidance

If you’re religious, you may benefit from guidance from an appropriate spiritual leader within your religious community. Pastors, priests, elders, and imams may be able to offer you spiritual and emotional support following your diagnosis.


If you aren’t religious, learning you’re terminally ill may prompt you to consider your beliefs and examine different faiths. This isn’t something you should feel pressured to do, but you may want to consider your beliefs when you’re working through the practical arrangements following your diagnosis. Some hospice providers have a religious focus, and many religious leaders visit terminally ill patients in hospitals and hospices. You may wish to consider whether or not you’re willing to talk to any religious leaders when they visit or whether you would prefer to seek out spiritual guidance from leaders from a specific religion.

Practical Considerations

In addition to anger and depression, it’s normal to feel fear when you receive your diagnosis. Fear can stem from uncertainty about what happens after death and uncertainty about looking after your needs during the time you have left. Many terminally ill individuals are unable to work, and you may be concerned about how to pay for your medical treatment and living expenses.

If you’re unable to work, you may qualify for some benefits. For example, you may be eligible for Medicare, which can cover the cost of your treatment. Medicare can also be used to pay for hospice care treatment if Medicare approves the hospice. Terminally ill patients may also qualify for disability benefits. You can apply to social security once you’ve received your diagnosis. You may also be eligible to receive food stamps.


If you have a life insurance policy, you can also access funds by pursuing a viatical settlement. Contact a reputable viatical settlement provider to learn more about your viatical settlement options before moving forward with selling your life insurance policy, though. The viatical settlement broker will review your medical records, as only applicants who are terminally ill qualify for viatical settlements. Then the company will locate a third party buyer for your life insurance policy. The buyer pays a single lump sum of cash.

The amount of money you receive will be less than the policy benefits, but it will be greater than the cash-in value you would receive from the insurance company. Once the buyer purchases your policy, they’re responsible for any outstanding premiums due, but they also become the policy’s beneficiary and will receive the death benefits. You’re free to use the money however you see fit, and the money you receive from a viatical settlement is tax-free.

Volunteer organizations and charities may also be able to help you with financial resources and practical assistance. Organizations such as CancerCare provide support to individuals with cancer. They help cover the cost of child care and transportation to medical appointments. They also have social workers who can help you apply for other benefits. You may also qualify for help from the Pharmaceutical Patient Assistance Programs if you don’t have health insurance.

You may also qualify for clinical trials of new medications. Entering a clinical trial may help you extend your life or improve your quality of life during your final months. Pharmaceutical companies cover the cost of treatment for clinical trials, which can help you manage your medical expenses.

If your condition or treatment causes fatigue, you may want to hire a personal care aide who can cook, clean, and transport you to medical appointments. As your condition progresses, you may need someone who can provide personal care if you opt to remain at home. Hiring an aide also enables your family to continue working without worrying about your needs during the day.

Telling Family and Friends

When and what to tell your family is a personal decision. If you’ve opted to see a therapist, they may be able to help you determine when to tell your family and what to share. You may also want to make arrangements to have your therapist or a spiritual counselor present when you share the news to ensure your family and friends receive emotional support.


There’s no one right way to share news of a terminal illness. Consider what’s in your best interests and what you’re comfortable with people knowing. Your spouse, spiritual leader, or therapist can help you make these decisions.

Developing a Bucket List

Think about the things you’ve always wanted to do and make a list. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon or dreamed of seeing the northern lights. Determine what’s feasible and focus on accomplishing the tasks that are most important to you.


Consider heading to a peaceful vacation destination to create lasting memories with the most important people to you. This can be a way of fulfilling some lifelong dreams while spending time with friends and family.

Final Arrangements

One of the challenges people who are terminally ill face is feeling like a burden. One way to mitigate this is to look after your final arrangements yourself instead of leaving these tasks for others. You can meet with a funeral home director to plan your funeral. This way, your family will not have to make difficult decisions about how to mark your passing, and you can be confident your wishes will be respected.


It’s a good idea to meet with your attorney and take appropriate legal steps once you’ve been diagnosed. Determine who will have medical power of attorney for you. This way, if you reach a point where you’re unable to make your own choices, you can be confident the right person is making medical decisions on your behalf. Your legal power of attorney can handle practical matters, such as banking. They’re authorized to cash checks and pay bills for you. When you appoint people to handle your medical and legal needs, you can prevent family conflict and expensive legal proceedings. Take time to prepare your will to ensure your estate is distributed per your wishes. This will also prevent your family from enduring expensive legal proceedings after you pass away.

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