Final Stage Cancers and End-of-Life Preparations

This article was written by cancer blogger and editor Jean Potter. It is often quite difficult to discuss topics such as the diagnosis of a terminal cancer, what happens in the final stages of cancer, and how to go about making end-of-life arrangements, yet it is important to support loved ones during the end stages of their life, have meaningful conversations, and make a plan that is beneficial to all. 

Final Stage Cancers and End-of-Life Preparations

At some point during cancer treatment, the final diagnosis of inoperability might happen. This occurs when the cancer is no longer treatable and has spread throughout most of the body. At that point, the patient is encouraged to make end-of-life preparations and to say their final goodbyes.

End-Stage Cancer Symptoms

Even though there are great strides towards improving certain cancer prognosis, there are still too many that eventually reach an inoperable point. Some of the most-deadly cancers include lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and mesothelioma. Even if lung cancer is aggressively treated and it briefly disappears, this type of cancer very often comes back and ends up being terminal. The person may live some two to three years before it reaches this point. In the case of a mesothelioma diagnosis, the cancer is often not found at all until it's in stage four, which is the final stage. In this final stage, the cancer has likely spread throughout the lymph nodes and reached metastasis. This makes it very hard to treat, and patients are often counseled that they have a year left to live. Regardless of the type of cancer, in the last stages of life, some of the symptoms are quite similar. The following are some common end-of-life symptoms:

- Increasing exhaustion and weakness
- Needing to sleep most of the day
- No appetite
- Loss of interest in the world around them
- Slow breathing
- Confusion

Finding Peace and Saying Goodbye

For those in the final stages of cancers, it's important to seek counseling and to find peace with the end-of-life. Counselors often recommend that patients seek to address and heal any outstanding emotional wounds with their friends and family. These recommendations may include asking for forgiveness, offering forgiveness, giving thanks, professing sentiments of love, and saying goodbye. Sometimes these emotions are difficult to express in person. Patients may find it easier to write cards or letters to those they want to communicate with. Reconciling and expressing love for close family members and friends is an important way to find peace at the end of life. It's also important for patients to seek peace within themselves. Those who have religious traditions to hold onto may find their traditions extremely helpful in understanding and accepting death. The following are some important aspects to finding peace at the end:

- Reconciling with family and friends
- Looking back on life experiences
- Consulting religious traditions for acceptance
- Cultivating a sense of gratitude towards life

Final Wishes and Arrangements

It is also important to make final arrangements for end-of-life matters. Many people tend to focus on their estate plan, updating their will, paying the bills, and dealing with taxes and any real estate and possessions, but final arrangements actually include many other aspects as well. For example, planning a memorial service includes who to choose to give the eulogy, what music and flowers to have, as well as many other details to attend to. A person may want to write their own obituary or have it written in a certain way or to contain chosen aspects of their life. In the present digital world we live in, it is be a good idea to compile passwords and let someone know how and where to find them. People with pets should make arrangements for someone to take care of their pet after they pass. A person's personal belongings and property after death is often simply sold in an estate sale. If someone has specific ideas as to where or whom that property should be given, they should take time to write down and communicate those directives and instructions for those left behind to sort it all out. The LastingMatters Organizer is a helpful, comprehensive guide and resource to compile personal information, wishes and directives to help loved ones when it matters most.

Talking about death and final goodbyes is always difficult, but those conversations can make things easier in the end for both the dying person and for their loved ones.