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If you were told of your terminal cancer and death might be a short distance away, it is only natural to feel shock, numbness, angry, depressed that life is so unfair and asking “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?’

Coming to terms with your imminent death is the first step to living the rest of your life.

Leaving a legacy

When patients find that they have fulfilled their purpose and that there is nothing more they can do to make a big difference, they let go more easily.

It helps if they can identify this purpose. One way is by leaving behind a legacy, which can be as simple as a memento for their loved ones.

Mary*, a young mother with three young children, was diagnosed with advanced cancer in her 30s. Before she died, she wrote a beautiful letter to each of her children, detailing how much she loved them. It was her gift to them. Whenever they missed her, they could read her letters and be comforted by the thought that she was still with them in spirit.

There are tools that can help patients accept their conditions. Meditation offers opportunities for deep self-reflection. Experiential exercises can bring them through real-world situations, and therapy (individual or group) is a powerful process for reframing their thoughts.

Seeing the whole picture

Many cancer patients go through emotional roller coasters, seeing only their cancer diagnosis, a bad prognosis or an unsuccessful treatment for their cancer. They don’t see the whole picture because it is so event-based. It’s just like marriage: Focus only on the quarrels with your spouse and you will feel that your relationship is an unhappy one. But if you look at the big picture, your marriage is actually not so bad as there have been good times.

This reframing process works the same way for cancer patients. Individual setbacks can be sad or disappointing, but seeing the big picture helps. An example is thinking, “I’m a cancer survivor who has managed to live an additional 10 years.”

The truth is that most terminally ill patients cannot accept death until the very end, because they have been conditioned to put up a fight. But when things do not improve despite the struggles, and they know they are dying, they begin to accept their condition for what it is.

It is at this point that they will be able to let go and finally be at peace with themselves.

Ref: S13