How do I know I’m dying?

Regardless of what your medical team says, or even the signs of physical decline in your body, it may be hard to think of yourself as dying. As your cancer worsens, your doctor can give you an idea of how long you may expect to live. But keep in mind – there’s no way to predict this for sure. Most people try to be realistic about what the future holds and accept that their time is limited, but at the same time they focus on living one day at a time and making the most of each day.

It’s important to understand your own feelings to a certain extent before you talk to your children. Once you’ve spent some time coming to terms with your own fear, anger, and sadness, you’re better able to help those who depend on you. But you can’t expect to be in total control of every feeling you have.

If you’re having trouble sorting through all of the emotions that surface at this time, think about talking with an expert who has worked with other patients facing similar problems. While you may solve some of these difficult issues on your own, you may lose valuable time if you depend only on yourself. Oncology social workers, nurses, psychologists, and other cancer care counselors have experience and education that prepares them to work with families in which someone is dying. Let yourself be helped by what they’ve learned about coping with death and dying.

You and your family will benefit if you stay involved with life and do the things you enjoy as long as you can. If your health care team has not talked to you about services that can help you at this time, tell them you need more information so you can make plans for yourself and your family.

This may be a good time to look into hospice or palliative care services. Hospice programs use teams of people and services. In the months before death, a hospice team can help you and your family manage any problems or issues related to terminal illness. The team usually includes doctors, nurses, home health aides, social workers or other types of counselors, and a member of the clergy. Hospice services are covered by Medicare and at least in part by most insurance plans. See Hospice Care to learn more.

For more on the decisions that must be made at the end of life and frank details on what people go through as they approach death, see Nearing the End of Life.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: January 14, 2015 Last Revised: March 20, 2015

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