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Death and Dying from Cancer

The American Cancer Society announced that cancer deaths have declined for 25 consecutive years. The national cancer death rate fell each year from 1991 to 2016 by 27%, according to a study published Jan. 8.

Still, the research predicts 1,762,450 new cancer cases this year – and 606,880 deaths.

Planning ahead for death will save you and loved ones added stress during an already stressful time. Among the benefits of being prepared for the end:

  • Empowering the patient to be active in their legacy.
  • Peace of mind that you are abiding by the patient’s wishes.
  • Knowing where essential documents are filed before you need them.
  • Avoiding legal entanglements over healthcare and financial decisions.

Frequently this means managing medical paperwork, including medications and in-house care. Preparing for end-of-life is constant change. However, embracing the new “normal” will ease angst within the patient. It also may seem overwhelming – but understand what is going to happen will make the inevitable easier for family and friends.

No one wants to dwell on losing someone they love. Still, it is imperative to prepare for death. … Take time to say, “I love you.” Tell your loved one how much they mean to you. Make a record of their life – funny stories, meaningful memories, favorite recipes.

We understand the anxieties and fears that accompany the overall care for the terminally ill. If you are struggling with grief, speak with a support specialist. Caregiver support groups are available. You can share experiences and learn from how others dealt with the death of a loved one.

Final Days: What to Expect

People facing the end-of-life stage have unique needs. Preparing for the inevitable is prudent for the patient, caregiver, family, and friends. Yes, it is morbid, but it also can shed a warming light on a difficult time in life.

Generally, the final weeks of a cancer patient’s life will include:

  • Loss of appetite.
  • Exhaustion, weakness, and desire to sleep.
  • Loss of interest and the inability to concentrate.

During this time, you can provide comfort and care as they begin to exhibit the signs of dying from cancer. Spending time with the loved one (even if it’s only sitting with them) can relieve angst. But, if the patient becomes confused or angry, do not get mad or lash out. Concentrate on making this time as smooth as possible for the patient.

Discuss with the patient’s healthcare professionals about the different types of care:

Palliative care focuses on relief from mental stress, pain, physical stress, and symptoms.

Hospice care often centers around end-of-life with medical, psychological, and spiritual support. The goal is comfort, dignity, and peace.

There are signs to look for during the final days:

  • Restlessness
  • Skin cools or changes color
  • Confusion and deliriousness
  • Inability to control bladder and bowels
  • “Rattling” (caused by fluids in the throat)

There also are several essential items to ensure are in place:

Will – a legal document detailing your wishes about how to distribute property at death.

Advance Directive – a written statement of a person’s wishes regarding medical treatment.

Medical power of attorney – a legal document authorizing someone to make medical decisions on your behalf.

Financial power of attorney – a legal document granting someone the authority to act on your behalf in financial matters.

Plan for funeral arrangements – choose the type of service you want to have and how to personalize the service.

Letting Go: Final Act of Love

In the final days, a dying patient’s body will begin to shut down. Understand that the body’s functions will cease; this is not a medical emergency.

It is natural for people to try to “hold on” during this time. You can reassure the dying person; it is OK to “let go.” Their pain and discomfort will be eased in death – and often, that is a great comfort for loved ones left behind.

There are personal ways you can say good-bye – holding hands, lying in bed with the person, talking. These are intimate moments. It’s OK to cry; tears express love.

When the final moment arrives, breathing and heartbeat cease. The jaw will relax, and the eyes may be in a fixed stare. When death occurs, gather your emotions; taking care of you is crucial.

There are physical, emotional, and spiritual needs that must be addressed. Realizing the various needs before death will help you make the best decisions regarding how you honor the values, beliefs, and lifestyle of the patient.