Being diagnosed with advanced cancer can feel overwhelming. There is no one way to react – everyone is different and will react in their own way.
This article will give you some tips to cope with an advanced cancer diagnosis and provide resources where you can find additional support.
What is advanced cancer?
Advanced cancer means the cancer has spread from the original (primary) site or has come back (recurred).
There are several different terms that health professionals use to describe cancer that has moved beyond the early stages, including secondary, metastatic, stage 4 and advanced.
Tips to help you cope
You may feel a range of emotions such as denial, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, anger or sadness. There are a few things you can do to help manage your emotions and help you feel more in control.
Find out what to expect
Getting more information can help you feel more in control and plan for changes. You can explore our Living with advanced cancer booklet for more information.
Join a support group
You may find it helpful to join a support group and meet people going through a similar experience to yourself. These groups can be face-to-face, online or via telephone.
Get professional help with how you’re feeling
It can help to speak with a qualified counsellor who has experience in cancer. They can assist you and your family to find strategies to cope with an advanced cancer diagnosis. Counselling can also help you explore ways to cope with emotions such as fear and anxiety.
For emotional or practical support on any cancer-related concerns, please call our 13 11 20 Cancer Information and Support Line.
Even when friends and family are genuinely willing to help, it can be hard to ask. It may be useful to have one friend or relative to coordinate offers of help and to update others on your progress. You can also use online tools to help organise volunteers, for example, gathermycrew.org.au.
Let people know when you don’t want to talk
Sometimes you may not want to share your feelings with friends and family, and that is okay. It can help to let people know that you don’t want to talk right now. You may want to talk to someone who is not a family member, such as a health professional, or explore your feelings your own way such as writing in a journal.
Try complementary therapies, exercise or meditation
Complementary therapies, such as relaxation or massage, are used alongside conventional medical treatments, and may help to improve your mood, general wellbeing and decrease stress and anxiety. There is also evidence that exercise during or after treatment can help support your wellbeing.
Find hope and meaning
It can be difficult to feel hopeful when you have been told you have advanced cancer. You may feel uncertainty about the future and what this looks like.
You may still find hope in different aspects of your life, such as:
- Spending time with your loved ones.
- Maintaining independence and staying symptom-free.
- Focusing on the things you enjoy that are still possible, such as a coffee with a friend or spending time in your garden.
- Trying new activities or small projects, such as completing a scrapbook of your life or planning a trip.
- Reflecting, celebrating your life and thinking about your legacy.
- Drawing on religion, faith or spiritual beliefs.
While the cancer and its treatment can limit your activities, some people discover new strengths in themselves, and this gives them hope.
Support for people with advanced cancer
Palliative care helps people with advanced cancer live fully and as comfortably as possible. It involves a range of services offered by health professionals. The main goal is to help you maintain your quality of life.
Some people may feel anxious about receiving palliative care because they believe it’s only for people who are close to the end of their life. However, palliative care is useful at all stages of advanced cancer and can be used from the time of diagnosis.
Other sources of support
Some people with advanced cancer may live alone or have little support from family or friends. You can seek support from other sources, such as:
- Your GP or other health professionals
- Support groups
- Cancer Council WA’s 13 11 20 Cancer Information and Support Line