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Advanced cancer is defined as cancer that is unlikely to be cured. When cure is unlikely, the focus of care shifts in physical, emotional and practical ways.
You may hear other words like secondary, metastatic, terminal or end-stage cancer to describe advanced cancer.
There is no way of knowing or predicting how long someone will live with advanced cancer. Some people live much longer than expected, while others die sooner than expected. Your healthcare team may be able to guess at a timeline based on what they know about you and the type of cancer you have, but it’s not an exact science.
For both the person with cancer and for loved ones, accepting the diagnosis and adjusting to life with advanced cancer takes time. Acceptance doesn’t mean that anyone is giving up. Acceptance allows you to take control of your life and focus on what’s most important to you. Many people find that as they become more accepting of the situation, some positive feelings help to balance the difficult emotions.
You may find it helpful to think of this as a time when you and your family hope for the best but plan for the worst. Planning for the worst might mean writing a will, deciding on a substitute decision-maker or talking about what a funeral or memorial service will look like.
As acceptance grows, some people find that in addition to the difficult emotions, there are positive feelings as well. They learn to appreciate life in a new way by focusing on comfort and on what brings joy and pleasure on a daily basis.
You may never accept your situation completely, and that’s OK. You have the right to live your life as you chose, right to the end. It may not be easy for others to accept this. If you all do your best to respect your differences, you can keep moving forward together.
Over time, you may also begin to find hope. Many people are surprised to find that hope in their cancer journey changes rather than ends. Hope for a cure may change to hope for peace and contentment, a moment of joy or simply a good day. Hope allows you to see that meaningful activities and achievements are still possible. It can carry you through hard times and help you keep a sense of dignity.