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Nearing End Of Life From Breast Cancer

How To Cope With Emotional Issues

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Emotions To Anticipate

As the end of life approaches, it is normal to experience a variety of feelings, and sometimes more than one at the same time. Feelings to anticipate include the following common ones:

Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross defined the five stages in which emotions can be expected at the end of life. Experience has shown that there is no particular order in which the stages show up and no standard amount of time for which they remain. In fact, you may experience emotions from more than one stage at a time. Previously felt emotions may return.

The five stages are:

  • Denial
    • Denial that you are going to die.
    • Denial can make you feel as if you are in a dream and going to wake up, or that the doctor or laboratory has made a mistake.
  • Anger
    • Anger can start with the question: "Why me?" or "Why now?"
    • It is worth trying to channel anger in a neutral manner  instead of taking it out on the people closest to you or the medical staff. One way to channel anger is to break a batch of inexpensive plates.
  • Bargaining
    • Attempting to bargain with a higher power such as God or Buddha: "If you spare me, I will....."
  • Depression
    • In addition to the loss of your own life, depression is often prompted by the things you will no longer do, or separation from the people you love, or the dreams that won't happen.
    • Depression can be treated with medication and/or with discussion with a professional mental health provider.
  • Acceptance
    • Acceptance that life is going to end and becoming peaceful about it.

How To Cope With Emotions

There is no one size-fits-all coping mechanism. The following ideas have helped people cope with emotions, particularly as end of life nears:

  • Experience shows that the best coping mechanism is whatever helped you get through other crises in your life.
  • Openly share your feelings with friends and family
    • Let family members and friends know that you are still hopeful despite discussing the subject of death and the fear of it. This is so even if the hope is "just" for a good quality of life.
    • It may be helpful to remind people that talking about something doesn't make it happen - just as not talking about it does not mean it won't happen.
  • Consider joining a support group or self help group of people in a similar situation. If you can't leave the house, you can participate over the telephone or through the internet.  To find a breast cancer support group, click here.
  • Consider making contact with another individual going through the same thing you are. We call such a person a cancer buddy.
  • If you haven't before, look for meaning in life. Meaning helps provide sense to what is happening.
  • If you need assistance with coping or finding meaning, consider the following:
    • Get professional help from a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker - particularly one that is experienced in end-of-life issues.
    • Priests, rabbis, inmans and other religious and spiritual teachers can provide counseling, solace, and help with meaning. You do not have to be a member to ask for their counsel.
  • No matter what is going on, look for humor. For instance, watch comedy television shows. Keep in mind that comics find humor in every situation.
  • For specific emotions, see the documents in "To Learn More."

NOTE: Music may be comforting. Toward the end, Chalice Of Repose arranges for a person to play peaceful music live (for example, on a harp).To learn more, see: offsite link. Alternatively, a local hospice or disease specific nonprofit organization may be able to make arrangements for peaceful, emotionally healing, music.

For additional information, see:

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