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Terminal Illness

Terminal illness is a medical term used to describe an illness or disease for which there is no cure and often no treatment except the relief of pain and various other symptoms which are part of the underlying illness.  Usually when someone is diagnosed as terminally ill it means that they will die in a fairly short time, often six months or less but there is always uncertainty about exact times.  With a progressive disease such as cancer the patient becomes increasingly ill as the disease advances.

Every patient and their family reacts differently when they are given the diagnosis of a terminal illness but often they go through a number of stages including denial, anger, guilt and depression before reaching acceptance.  During these different stages the patient and their relatives need a great deal of support and understanding.  Some, especially those who become stuck at one particular stage, need professional help in the form of counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy.

Most patients with a terminal illness are given palliative care which aims at controlling pain and distress and improving the quality of life the patient has in their final illness.  Some patients are able to be cared for at home while others are admitted to the growing number of hospices which specialise in helping terminally ill patients and their families.  In hospices staff are trained to be able to accompany patients and help them to cope with a large variety of end of life issues.  Staffing levels are higher than in hospitals enabling staff to spend quality time with patients and allowing them to discuss hopes and fears and to support family members.

Having a spiritual belief helps many people to deal with terminal illness especially if they believe in life after death.  Chaplains working in hospices are skilled at enabling patients to talk about their faith or absence of it.  They can also discuss death and all the issues related to it in a way that close friends or family many not be able to because they are not emotionally involved.  Sometimes people express a wish to prepare their own funeral service and again they can be helped to do this.  Spiritual belief can also assist families to cope better with bereavement and many faith groups now provide bereavement counselling in which the bereaved can share experiences in mutual support of one another.

Living with the diagnosis of a terminal illness naturally arouses a lot of emotional issues but it also raises many practical ones such as finances, housing and employment.  People can feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do in a short time to make plans for their loved ones after their death or even to make ends meet when they have to give up their employment.

The Citizens Advice Bureau and advice centres in hospitals can provide information on the practicalities of claiming State Benefits.  A number of cancer charities also have telephone help lines or websites which provide useful advice.

Those without access to the Internet can visit Citizens Advice Bureau, Local Benefits Agency and Local Branches of Cancer Charities.  GP surgeries, national and local help lines and patient services staff at hospital also provide information.

The following website links may be helpful:- (funeral planning)

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