Your treatment management

Family support

Conversations about end of life are some of the most difficult anyone can have. This page is here to offer you advice on how to have these conversations, and support your family now and when you are no longer with them.

Many people worry that talking about the end of their life could cause other people distress. Below we’ve collected some advice for how to approach these difficult conversations. However, above all,  it’s important to remember that it’s OK to be upset yourself. Being honest about your feelings and thoughts will help you have meaningful conversations at this time when they matter so much. 

  • Tell people in person (where possible): Where you may have close family or friends living away from home, this might be more difficult. But where possible it is best to have these conversations face to face. Try and pick a quiet location to sit, maybe somewhere private if you think people will become very upset and they may be self-conscious about it. Don’t feel guilty asking a loved one to share the news on your behalf if you feel more comfortable doing it this way
  • Don’t put off conversations waiting for the right moment: Be straightforward with what you want to say, and don’t wait for a pause to start
  • Be specific, and detailed: Tell people what your doctors have told you around your cancer and your prognosis. If they ask for further details, you can tell them, or you can choose to keep them private – it’s up to you, but people will often have a lot of questions
  • Be honest, and patient: Don’t try and pretend that everything is ok. Even if you have come to terms with the idea of your end of life, it may take other people some time
  • Be prepared: Everyone will react differently, but it’s likely that many people will be upset, and will cry or be in shock. Some people may even be in disbelief, or angry. In these instances, it’s good to share specific details about your cancer experience so far so that they can understand the full story

Talking to anyone about cancer is hard, but it can be even more so when it comes to talking to children or teenagers, and the conversation involves the end of life. We’ve listed some tips below:2,3

  • Be honest and specific: It may seem difficult, but tell children outright what is going on. Sit down with them at a calm time, and have another adult in the room with you if you think this would help
  • Use clear, simple language: Try to speak to your children in a way that they understand, but most importantly in a way that you’re comfortable with
  • Tailor your approach: Children grow up quickly, and some will be more aware of death than others. All children are different. Depending on their needs, they may struggle to understand, and you may have to find other ways to explain things to them
  • Be prepared for questions: Young children often don’t have the same concept of life and death that older ones do. They may ask questions about what it means to die or what happens to people when they die. Be prepared for questions like these, and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to questions about the future

In addition to having important conversations about end of life, there’s a lot of opportunity to emotionally and practically support your loved ones, and ensure things are in place for after you have passed away.

Emotional support  

  • Write letters to loved ones so that they have something personal to look back on
  • Create memory boxes together, and fill them with tokens, photos, and stories about special moments
  • Plan special events or trips with loved ones
  • If you follow a faith, consult spiritual or community leaders with loved ones
  • Plan a special place with them to have a memorial arranged for their reflection in the future. This doesn’t necessarily need to be a grave site – it could be a plaque, a bench, or even a special tree or viewpoint somewhere that is meaningful to you all (check with local government about installing plaques and benches beforehand)
  • Set aside time together to have conversations, and share life stories
  • Make sure your family has a network of loved ones and friends around them to help them through their grief. This could include neighbours for nearby support

  • Ensure any financial support is arranged and in place. Your family may be entitled to certain benefits or life insurance payments, so check the conditions around these in advance
  • Keep important documents (insurance, wills, bank account information, etc.) in a safe place, and make sure your loved ones know where they are
  • Make a summary of all your subscriptions, memberships, and registrations that will need to be cancelled
  • Make sure funeral plans are in place – you can work with your loved ones to arrange this. They may want to suggest music, or readings they would like to remember you by, and you can make sure they know of any wishes you have too. You may even want to contribute to put some money to one side for this
  • While people who die of cancer may not be able to donate many organs, it may be possible for you to donate your corneas (a part of the eyes) after you die. You may also wish to donate your body for medical research.4 If you wish for this to take place then make sure your family know in advance
  • Ensure that you have a will in place – remember that even if you have lived with somebody for a long time but aren’t married, they are not always automatically entitled to your estate and possessions, so make sure that your last wishes are clear
  • Work with them to set up a power of attorney and create a 'living will' (also called an 'advanced directive') to determine what care you want if you are no longer able to make decisions yourself. This can include information around resuscitation (help if you fall unconscious and have problems with your heart or breathing), pain relief, etc.
  • Have plans for any pets, and where they will go after you have passed

You can read more about some of these practical aspects here

Click on one of the options below to learn more 

  1. Beyond. How to tell people you’re dying. Available from Last accessed July 2021.
  2. Macmillan Cancer Support. Explaining cancer to children and teenagers. 2016. Available from Last accessed July 2021.
  3. Beyond. How to explain death to a child. Available from: Last accessed July 2021.
  4. Macmillan Cancer Support. Organ and tissue donation. 2015. Available from: Last accessed July 2021.