Dealing with the news of a terminal illness can be a long process. When you find out about a terminal illness, whether it affects you or a close friend or family member, is difficult. There are many complex emotions and challenges that will need to be navigated during this period and you may feel overwhelmed or incapable of handling it all. The most important thing is to be kind and patient with yourself and your support system as you manage an illness and what steps it might bring.

If You Have Received a Diagnosis

When you receive the news, you will likely feel overwhelmed with many different emotions and with what the diagnosis truly means. Over the course of this journey, there are a few steps you may want to take.

Educate and Inform

Many things are going to feel out of your control after receiving a terminal illness diagnosis. One of the steps you can take to feel empowered and to make the right decisions for your personal needs is self-education and staying informed. You should be aware of potential complications. Speak to your doctor about options in order to make informed choices about your personal health and well-being.

Speak With a Grief Professional

Friends and family members can be amazing support systems, but there is a benefit to seeking the counsel of a grief professional after receiving a diagnosis. It can be difficult to be honest with the people we love for fear of upsetting them, and counselors have resources and training specifically for your needs.

Find a Group

In addition to the support of a grief counselor, you may wish to look for the support of individuals sharing the same experience as you. Support groups can give you the opportunity to be candid and honest about your experiences with others who genuinely understand, and they can provide a sense of community and support that can be important after a difficult diagnosis.

Make Plans

There are many important plans you will need to put into place after your diagnosis. You will want to discuss your medical needs and possibilities with your healthcare team and decide what the next steps for pain management and care are going to be so that you can have control at the end of life.

Be Kind to Yourself

A diagnosis may come with many conflicting emotions and fears, but it is essential to work toward peace and patience with yourself. When you feel guilty for things you may have done or not done, that you believe contributed to this outcome, it takes energy and time away that could have been spent with loved ones or doing the things you enjoy the most. You will experience changes and frustrations. Every emotion is valid and deserves consideration. When you are kind to yourself, you can reduce the amount of added stress, which leaves you with more time and energy to be with people and engage in joyful things.

Acknowledge It

Communication after a diagnosis is very important. Not only will these conversations help you complete any necessary tasks, it will also make it easier to say the important things. It is difficult to acknowledge an illness head-on, but there are many tools for starting those difficult discussions and it will also make space for your friends and family to tell you how they are feeling as well. If something is affecting you, tiptoeing around the topic can feel uncomfortable. Find a method for discussing the situation puts you at ease and allows you to say the important things.

Be Honest

If you have someone in your life whom you love very much, let them know. Even if you say the words all the time, it can give them joy and peace to keep those memories of your love with them in the future. If you are struggling to say something important, this can be the opportunity to open up and share what needs to be said. Alternatively, you can write it in a letter to them.

Do the Things You Want To Do

Do you want to watch the sunrise? Binge-read a favourite author and meet them for a signed copy of a new book? Take time to be with and enjoy the things you love and the things you feel you never had enough time to do. That can mean morning walks with a partner or trying new types of foods. If it makes you feel happy and gives you a sense of joy or peace, embrace the moment.


There is no one way to deal with news of a terminal diagnosis. Finding a support system, asking important questions, and learning what you can do to best advocate for your own or a family member’s needs are all very important. There are logistical and medical steps that should be taken as part of the end-of-life planning process to protect a person’s interests and wishes.

It is very important to respect the emotional journey and the many feelings that come along with such a diagnosis as they change over time.

Laurian Ward is here to offer guidance and resources so you do not have to do it all alone.