The Stages of Terminal Illness and How To Handle It


Terminal illnesses are usually revealed to the patient by doctors. Terminal illnesses e. g Cancer or HIV & AIDS cause patients’ emotions to change but this varies between different people. How a person responds to the news that he/she has a terminal illness determines how he/she lives afterward. This essay will discuss the stages of terminally ill patients from the point they become aware of their condition. The essay also sheds some light on how family, organizations, and personal support can help them.

Stages of Terminal Illnesses

Firstly, there is the onset of the disease. Secondly is the home admission stage that requires nursing of the patient which is followed by death (Waldropetal, 2005). The knowledge that one suffers from a terminal condition is quite frustrating. This feeling comes to both the ill person and those close to him. The person may also become angry with himself. The patient first lives in denial that he/she is ailing from a terminal illness. This stage may last for days, months, or years and marks the first action of a patient (Axelrod, 2011). The patient at this time may find it difficult to share the news. However, inside them, there is a great desire to tell out their fears to be able to lead a better life with illness (Grace, 2010). Finding someone that the patient can open up to would help the patient especially when they are shocked by the news.

Anger and grief come after accepting the diagnosis. Ill people may direct their anger to the doctors, nurses, or their caregivers (Axelrod, 2011). Grief is likely to be more in younger people than in older people. Some ill people may also suffer from guilt. Patients may regret their failure to seek early medical treatment or feel a need for confirmation from other doctors. An ailing person may also envy others thinking that God was unfair to them when they see others enjoying themselves. Nurses should take time to explain to the patient about the terminal illness with love and empathy (Axelrod, 2011).

Terminal illness brings depression which is characterized by mourning. Depression occurs as a result of loss of feelings, such as career and leisure activities. The ill patient feels bad because of the fear of loss and knowing that whatever he has is for a limited time (Axelrod, 2011). Those who accept that they are terminally ill accepting the reality and start dealing with it and this improves their life.

The best way to handle a terminal illness is to find a support group. Support groups may be specialized in one type of disease or a variety of diseases. Support groups are very helpful because they provide emotional, practical, and financial advice which directs a person in making appropriate decisions. Patients also find other people with similar situations who help them to be optimistic. Doctors and nurses can provide information to the patient on where to get group support (Grace, 2010).

Empathy is a core value in helping these patients. Some of the patients may refuse treatment and just wish they could die. The final stages are mostly characterized by this feeling of wishing to die especially when suffering becomes severe and pain is increased. Those who take care of these patients such as family members and medical staff should do their best to convince the patient to accept medication and proper nourishment (Federation, 2006).

Throughout all the stages caregivers should encourage the sick person by reminding them about their past achievements. Seeking sustainable help is recommended to avoid financial stress. The presence of the carer is very important because the patient feels loved and is unlikely to have severe effects of depression. Care providers should always make efforts to gather maximum information on the particular ailment from which their patients are suffering. This would assist the ailing person to understand the nature of the disease, and making appropriate decisions for treatment. Engaging in questions and answers is important because the patient becomes more comfortable revealing all his worries which helps in healing the mind. During these interactions, one should make sure he or she does it with love (Die, 2011).

Organizational support such as terminal illness support networks can be supportive in helping the terminally ill. Benefit agencies should also be utilized by these patients. Exemption from tax and allowances can be provided to those with terminal illnesses. Attendance allowance, invalid care allowance, incapacity benefits, constant attendance allowance, and disability living allowances can be claimed by the carers to help in offsetting expenses that come with the task of caring for the terminally ill (Die, 2011).

Online support groups are also helpful because people can share their experiences and thus feel that they are not alone but other people are going through similar situations (Grace, 2010).

Caregivers should also take care of themselves. Enough sleep is important for them. Planning for their time also becomes an important factor. To protect themselves from stress, they should ensure they have leisure time and get emotional advice from the nurses or doctors. Sharing of experience with other people offers emotional support (Die, 2011).


Terminal illnesses can occur to anyone. Taking care of those who become terminally ill requires empathy. Emotional and medical support alleviates depression and pain respectively from terminally ailing people.


Axelrod, J. (2011). The 5 stages of loss and griefing.

Die, I. I. (2011). Terminal and life Threatening illness. Web.

Federation, W. (2006). Lecture on Terminally Ill Law of Israel. Web.

Grace, E. (2010). Support Groups for the Terminally ill.

Waldropetal, R. (2005). Final Transitions:Family caregiving at the end of life. Journal of Palliative Medicine: 8(3), p. 624.

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