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Terminal Illness

What is Terminal Illness?

  • Sometimes referred to as a life-limiting illness, a terminal illness is a disease that can’t be cured and is expected to result in someone’s death. 
  • This may be caused by one illness or several conditions. 
  • It’s often difficult for doctors to predict how long someone has to live. The person diagnosed may have days, weeks, months, or years left to live, and this could depend on their diagnosis, or treatment available.


Whether you, or someone you know has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, there’s no right way to feel. Many of us don’t contemplate our own deaths, or the deaths of those close to us, so the shock of having to suddenly confront this can be really hard to deal with. 

CALM are here to support you no matter what. If you need to talk, you can call our free, confidential helpline, or use our webchat service. CALM’s trained helpline staff are here to listen, signpost information and support you from 5pm to midnight everyday.

How does it feel to be diagnosed with a terminal illness?

Everyone will have their own way of coping with the diagnosis of a terminal illness and there’s no set way to feel when you are faced with this news. Some people will feel numb, others may be overcome with anger or fear – these are all very natural responses. 

Understanding what you or someone close to you is going through can help you cope better with the situation. It also gives an opportunity, however painful, to plan, prepare, and say goodbye. While everyone will react in their own way, there are some common emotions people might feel when diagnosed with a terminal illness:

  • Shock or disbelief – you may question whether what you’re going through is real. This is a totally normal feeling and it can last quite a while.
  • Denial After the initial shock wears off, lots of people move into denial. This can be both the person with the diagnosis, and friends or family who are affected by it. They may carry on with their lives, convincing themselves that nothing is wrong. Again, it can last some time and for some, refusal to accept that situation can last right up to the end.
  • Anger and grief Accepting the diagnosis can sometimes cause people to lash out at those around them. This might be the doctor who is giving them the bad news, or those that are caring for them on a daily basis. There can also be a strong sense of grief for what is lost – the years ahead, as well as the healthy years in the past. This is all perfectly normal and sharp swings in mood are all part of the process of coming to accept what is happening.
  • Fear – It’s normal to be scared of death. People can also feel scared and afraid of the pain and symptoms of the illness that they, or their relatives have been diagnosed with. 

Coming to terms with a terminal illness is not easy and many people will not know how to process this news. However you are feeling, support is available to you, and you’re not alone.

Where can I find help?

Talking about terminal illness

If you, or someone close to you is trying to come to terms with terminal illness, talking about how you feel can help you feel more supported. It can be hard to know how to talk openly about terminal illness and it’s sometimes difficult to find the words. Here are some ways you can start a conversation with friends, family or a medical professional about what you’re going through:

“I need to talk to you about how I’m feeling. Things are tough, and I’m struggling to know what to do about the diagnosis” 

“I want to talk to you about something, but it’s hard to find the words. The doctor has told (me/someone I know) that (I/they) have (X amount of time) left to live.”


5pm-midnight | free | confidential | Anonymous

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