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17 Apr, 2021
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terminal illness

Understanding Terminal Illness – By Shahela Sheikh

Does A Loved One Have A Terminal Illness? – Written By Shahela Sheikh

A terminal illness is one that cannot be treated and is likely to cause death within a few years. Cancer is also categorised as a terminal illness. At first, cancer may not be a terminal illness as many types of cancers can even be treated.

There are various other diseases that are terminal, for example, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), dementia, Parkinson’s, liver disease etc. Terminal diseases are basically end-stage diseases that are not curable or have little treatment.

Compassionate care is needed to be given to anyone who has been diagnosed as terminally ill. A person diagnosed with a terminal illness is likely to experience a wide range of emotions such as grief, regret, sadness among others.

Coping With The Diagnosis Of Terminal Illness:

Coming to terms with death can be a difficult and painful experience. Individuals may experience varied emotions especially those who have been diagnosed, some of these emotions may be numbness, guilt, uncertainty, sadness, regret, anger, fear & can even experience shock.

Those terminally ill, have to make a number of decisions, for not only the type of care they need but where they should seek that care, how the finances, properties & assets can be managed, the liabilities involved etc.

Those terminally ill, also have to choose the way they would like to spend their last moments and with who. This is very important as it helps to conceptualise death. They will also feel the body is failing and becoming weaker. For children who are terminally ill, talking about death can be difficult as compared to adults.

What Does This Mean For The Patient’s Near & Dear Ones?

Terminal illnesses affect loved ones, mainly families and the friends of those who may be suffering. Facing the process of saying goodbye can be very difficult and dealing with the diseases can be very mentally consuming especially for the near & dear ones of those suffering. Research has shown those who care for people with terminal illness are at a risk for anxiety and depression. Guilt is also associated with those who are taking time off to take care of the terminally ill.

Children who are losing a parent may experience fear and uncertainty about the future, while the surviving parent may also feel sadness, uncertainty and also in some cases may experience anxiety related to finances and the burden of raising a family alone.

Death With Dignity

Death with dignity is an option for those who are terminally ill and are adults with a sound mind and have met certain requirements, who can be given a prescription medication to end their life and die where and when they want to, rather than suffer & remain in severe pain, whilst their body is giving up.

Counselling & Care

Under care we have two types of care:
1. Palliative care: This is usually provided to people with a terminal illness & this type of care includes medications or treatments to minimise pain. It can also involve engaging in spiritual /psychological treatments that aim to keep individuals comfortable and provide them with the best quality of life.

2. Hospice care: This includes no treatment, or when treatment does not respond to the medical attempts. It includes providing compassionate care for people in the last phases of their incurable disease.

Therapy provided to a person with a terminal illness differs from other types of therapy. Therapy in this case may be more time-limited and focused. It can be a more collaborative approach that involves medical providers, spiritual advisers and family members.

One common approach to therapy involves the work of a famous psychologist Elizabeth Kubler Ross:

Stage 1: denial
Stage 2: anger
Stage 3: bargaining
Stage 4: depression
Stage 5: acceptance

The above are the stages of dying or death that one must go through in order for one to be able to come to terms with death.


terminal illness

Shahela Sheikh – Psychologist

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