Coping when a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness.

When my Dad was first diagnosed with cancer, I was 13 years old and in year 9 at school. I didn’t really understand what the diagnosis meant at first and to start with, it sounded as though that all my Dad needed was some treatment and he’d be fine so I brushed it off. And it wasn’t until a couple of years later that the situation seemed more serious and I finally Googled the term cancer and it scared me a lot. There were lots of stages to my Dad’s illness. He was diagnosed with cancer when I was 13 and at first he had an operation and some radiotherapy in Oxford, which was a difficult time because there was a lot of travelling to Oxford at evenings and week-ends for a few months. A few months before my GCSEs, we were told that Dad’s cancer had spread so he needed chemotheraphy which made him very sick. The chemo didn’t work and in 2011 we were told that his illness was terminal. I had never heard of the term ‘terminal illness’ so I Googled it and I understood. On 31st October 2011 my Dad was taken into hospital in an ambulance and he never came back home after that because he wasn’t well enough and he was moved to the Duchess Of Kent House just before Christmas that year.

In terms of dealing with a diagnosis from the perspective of the family member of someone being diagnosed with a serious illness, I would say that the best thing to do is to talk to someone you trust about the diagnosis; be it a parent, a relative, a teacher, a colleague or a friend. It took me ages and ages before I told anyone about my Dad’s diagnosis for the simple reason of me being very shy about things. When I eventually did open to people, I found it very helpful and people were so understanding and kind.
The second thing I would say is life still goes on ‘normally’ after a diagnosis. I thought that everything should just stop after my Dad’s diagnosis. It felt as though life would never be the same again, which was true but life has to go on and it is important not to stop doing stuff you enjoy. I stopped writing for a while after my Dad was diagnosed with cancer which was probably the worst thing I could have done because I had no real outlet for my emotions and I generally ended up crying but not wanting to tell anyone why.
Finally, if you’re a family with children, be honest with your children (if you feel that it is appropriate). I hated it when my Mum felt that I wasn’t old enough or mature enough to know stuff about my Dad’s illness, to visit him sometimes etc., because it made me feel unimportant and it also made me less likely to talk to them about how I was feeling.

I hope that this helps people help people to better deal when a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness.


I wonder if anyone else had the same experience my husband and I had, with the consultant breaking the news that his cancer was terminal in an abrupt and crass way. Then, seeing our visible shock, she compounded the problem by saying, ‘Oh! Were you expecting something better?’.

During the four months that it took him to die, I was told many times what a wonderful oncologist she is; maybe, but she’s an insensitive human being.

Oh wow - that’s almost unbelievable… Care, compassion and an understanding of how any news will impact a family should be at the forefront of any healthcare professional’s mind. So sorry you went through this. Did you ever follow this up? I’m sure it’s the last thing on your mind at a horrible time, but it’s frightening to think the same insensitivity might occur in other situations.

If anyone else is reading this and is experiencing, or has experienced, similar situations, the NHS does have ways of reporting complaints officially:

NHS complaints procedure.

Hi EmBeth,

Wise words indeed. I think we are often guilty of assuming that people will know what we mean when we use terms such as terminal and I’m sad that you had to find out from Google which can be even scarier when its just you and a computer screen.

You are so right, if you can find someone that you trust to talk to then do, it will help, you shouldn’t have to go through this on your own. You are also right about not giving up the things you enjoy, they are the things that belong to you and will help to get you through.

Well done on being able to write such a frank and honest post and thank you - I have learnt something from you tonight. Keep writing.

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