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What to Do If You Receive a Terminal Diagnosis

When we meet with doctors for a diagnosis, we always hope for good news. But, sometimes, it’s not. Sometimes, it’s the news that we least wanted to hear — a terminal illness diagnosis.

If you’ve been told you’re suffering from a terminal illness, it may feel like the sky is falling. Besides coming to terms with what you just learned, there are many things that need to be done and decisions that need made. How can you start to pick up the pieces? What might you want to do next?

What is a Terminal Diagnosis?

A terminal diagnosis is generally defined as an untreatable illness or condition that is expected to lead to death. The life expectancy of someone with a terminal illness can be days, months, or even years.

What to Do If You Have a Terminal Illness

Build a Strong Support System

If you have a terminal illness, you may have a lot of questions and a lot of understandable anxiety. Building a strong support system around yourself is important to help cope with this anxiety and other difficult feelings. Reaching out to, confiding in, and spending time with friends and family members may help. Spending time with loved ones, like friends and family, can take your mind off your diagnosis, help you relax a little, and give you a chance to find closure. You may also want to look into getting grief counseling and therapy, which can help you process the complex emotions that comes with a terminal diagnosis. Luckily, Medicare may help cover this type of counseling under hospice care.

Put Your Affairs in Order

It may be the last thing you want to think about or do but putting your affairs in order while you’re still able to is important. Specifically, you’ll want to look at creating or updating your last will and testament and advanced directives.

Your will should be drafted with the assistance of a professional to ensure it covers the necessary topics, such as financial planning, funerary decisions, naming an executor, and other final arrangements. You should also establish advance directives for medical care. Simply, put advance directives are legal documents that define the types of treatments you’d want, and who will make medical decisions for you, should you become incapacitated. Powers of attorney and do not resuscitate orders (DNR) are two well-known types, but there are many others.

End-of-life counseling refers to conversations held with your doctor about your terminal diagnosis and your care options.

End-of-life counseling with your primary care physician can also help you with making medical decisions (in general or for advance directives) and determining whether or not to enroll in hospice care. End-of-life counseling refers to conversations held with your doctor about your terminal diagnosis and your care options. Fortunately, Medicare may help cover end-of-life counseling, making these important meetings available and affordable to those who need them most.

Consider Hospice Care

Hospice care, also known as end-of-life or palliative care, is a form of care when you stop trying to cure the illness and focus on maintaining your quality of life. This often includes pain and symptom management, but also offers a great deal of emotional, spiritual, and physical support.

Hospice care, also known as end-of-life or palliative care, is a form of care when you stop trying to cure the illness and focus on maintaining your quality of life.

Medicare Part A often helps cover hospice care. In order for hospice care to be covered by Medicare, you must be certified as terminally ill by both a hospice doctor and your primary care physician and be given a life expectancy of six months or less. Other requirements apply. You can read more about hospice care and Medicare’s coverage of it in our post Hospice Care: Comfort and Aid When You Need It Most.”

Get Help for Your Loved Ones

You aren’t the only person affected by this diagnosis. Your partner, friends, and family members may also go through many of the same stages of grief you are. In fact, 40 to 70 percent of caregivers display symptoms of depression.

It’s important that your loved ones take time to sort out their own feelings.

It’s important that your loved ones take time to sort out their own feelings. This is primarily why hospice care offers grief counseling to the entire family. If you’re enrolled in hospice care, make sure they utilize this valuable service. If you’re not receiving hospice care, many insurances may help cover grief counseling, including Medicare.

Create New Memories with Those Who Matter Most

Just because you’ve received a terminal diagnosis doesn’t mean that it must be an end point. Even if you’ve been given a set number of days or months, you don’t have to use that time waiting for the end. In fact, this can bring focus and purpose to the time you have left. Find out and enjoy what truly matters most to you. After all, time is the most valuable currency we have when there’s a stark limit on it.

In this time, it’s important to find out and enjoy what truly matters most to you.

Take this time to ensure that the memories your loved ones have with you are positive. Have friends and family visit to reminisce or make new memories. The concept of a bucket list, popularized by the movie of the same name, is another way to focus on positive memories. Whatever you do, the time you spend with loved ones will become treasured memories for years after your passing, creating your own immortality in a sense.

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A terminal diagnosis is some of the worst news you can get. It signals the coming of an end that can feel, and may be, inescapable. There are many things to plan and do to ensure your affairs are in order and you’re comfortable as you transition into this final stage of your life. But, whatever you do, enjoy what truly matters to you, whether that’s spending time with loved ones, seeing new sights, or partaking in an old hobby. And remember, you’re not alone!