Informing a patient of a terminal illness is a responsibility, an important part of a doctor’s service to his patient.

A doctor may not be able to predict when a patient is going to die but when the illness is terminal, it is important for the patient to know. Doctors can give patients a fairly accurate time-frame when the illness is something like stage 4 cancer that has metastasized. Terminal is a dubious term, though, because there are so many variables in the medical world. But, by informing the patient that the illness is considered terminal, the doctor and patient can discuss quality of life with or without care, as well as what options are available.

Answering the “Big Question”

Once the initial questions about dying are answered, the doctor can discuss treatments and how they will affect the patient individually. The doctor can inform the patient of what is possible and what is not. The doctor/patient relationship is especially important when all the questions have been answered. Patients can deal with terminal illness news and not give up hope if their relationship with their doctors is based on honesty and trust.

Coping with a terminal illness is difficult for the patient as well as the survivors. Grieving is part of the process and is different for all the parties involved. In today’s world, a terminal illness may linger for an extended period of time because treatments are available that may lengthen the life of the patient for months or even years.

The lengthened grieving process alters the lifestyles of family members as well as patients. As human beings, we understand that death is inevitable but when a terminal diagnosis is administered, we must learn to live with it for what could be quite a while and doctors face the same thing.

Confronting Grief

Grief is both an individual matter and a family matter. Everyone involved with the patient, including the doctors and nurses, experiences grief when a terminal illness is diagnosed. The range of feelings connected to grief may run from guilt, love, hate, unresolved issues, and apathy. Grieving is both personal and non-personal. Some may hold their grief in while others may act out their grief. One of the major things that a doctor learns throughout his or her career is how to deal with the grief or other emotions associated with diagnosing a terminal illness.

Challenges to Overcome

Many challenges will arise when a terminal illness is diagnosed. The patient and the family will more than likely have to rearrange their lifestyles to accommodate the challenges and learning to cope with the new lifestyle may be the biggest challenge for all the parties involved. Coping with the intricacies of extended grief may wear on the individuals involved and may cause complex feelings. A terminal illness can be like a merry-go-round for the family as well as the patient and the doctor taking care of him.

As a doctor, it might be hard to give a patient news like this, especially if you are close with the patient. Dealing with family members and working through options with the patient can be even more tough but it’s important to remember how to help each individual going through it.