Having a terminal illness can feel like a death sentence. In this day with its medical miracle”, death is seen as a failure of the medical profession. Death is the enemy to be fought at all costs. We wish we could deny its very existence. We feel that if we talk about it, we will bring death to us sooner somehow.
Encouragement for those with a terminal illness
However, when the doctors say that there is nothing more to be done, as scary as that seems, we have been given the gift of time. This is our time and how we use it is up to us to choose. Will we control the experience or let it control us? Although having a life-threatening illness takes away “our future,” it also gives us a chance to live in the present and make our life the best it can be.
Here are some things you can do to live in the present if you have terminal illness symtoms.
Do it today
We often put off until tomorrow what we can’t or won’t deal with today. We think that we will have more energy to deal with something. But today may be as good as it gets. Do whatever you want to do even if you don’t feel as good as you want to feel.
Deal with regrets
We all have regrets about things in the past, but these regrets are a waste of time and energy. If you can fix something, then fix it. If you can’t fix it, let it go.
Our relationships with family and friends are one of the most important things in our lives. If you have had a misunderstanding with a family member or friend, go to them and talk about it. You may not get another chance.
Save your energy for whatever is important to you. Your body’s “batteries are losing their charge”. Visits from your grandchildren may be more important than coming to the dinner table. Sleep is like recharging your batteries. Use sleep when you need it.
Eating and nutrition
Eat whatever food looks appealing to you. This is not a time to worry about salt or cholesterol unless your life-threatening illness involves your heart. Three meals a day is probably too much for you. A time will come when food has no appeal for you. Your body will no longer need or want food as much. Eat what you can and want.
Not everyone has pain, but if the pain is a problem, take your pain medicine on a regularly scheduled basis. If you wait until the pain is bad, it takes your pain medicine that much longer to work. Stay on your schedule for pain medicine, don’t skip doses. It is not unusual for you to need to increase the dose occasionally. Talk to your doctor or your hospice nurse.
Don’t worry about becoming addicted to pain medication or overdosed. It’s very hard to overdose on pain medicine you have been taking for a while.
Signs of overdose are drowsiness, thick tongue, slurred speech, hallucinations, confusion, or slowed breathing. If any of these occur, hold the next scheduled dose and call your doctor or hospice nurse.
Addiction happens when there is more pain medicine than pain. Different people need different doses to relieve their pain. It is people who don’t actually have pain for the medicine to work on that become addicted.
We are all going to be afraid to some extent when the time for death draws near
After all, it is a totally new experience for us! Anything new is scary, right? We don’t know what to expect. Don’t let fear get in the way of using these last days, weeks, or months wisely. From the day we are born, we begin moving toward death. For some people, death occurs emotionally the day they are told that they can’t be cured. Their disease process takes over their lives. No more fun, laughter, friends, or family relationships are allowed in their lives.
Reflect each day on what had value to you in that day. Did you watch a Sunrise, hear a child’s laugh and smell flowers blooming? Or were you so wrapped up in yourself that you didn’t take time to enjoy the day? Approaching death gives us a chance to say all the things we need to say I love you, I’m sorry”, “Goodbye”.