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With how common cancer is, there are very few people in the United States—and, indeed, globally—who have not been affected by cancer in some way. Whether your yourself have had it, or whether one of your friends, family members, or coworkers have been diagnosed with the disease, you have likely been touched by this debilitating illness at some point in your life.
To illustrate that, consider that every year, almost 600,000 Americans die from cancer, making it the second-leading cause of death after heart disease.
Despite how common cancer is, many people are not aware of the timeline of end-stage cancer symptoms. Many are also unaware of the services hospices can offer in helping cancer patients and their families deal with the difficulties brought on by the final stages of cancer. This article addresses what the signs of a cancer patient dying are and how hospice care can help.
Signs of Dying from Cancer
No two people will have the same end of life symptoms; cancer is not the same for everyone, and everybody responds to it differently. That said, there are many common terminal cancer symptoms experienced by patients in the final stages of cancer, some of which are explained below.
Symptoms in the Final Weeks of Cancer
- Weakness and fatigue. During their final weeks, the cancer patient may find they tire out more quickly. They may experience chronic fatigue that does not improve with rest. Because of this, the patient may spend most of their time in bed.
- Loss of appetite. The patient may find that their appetite is greatly reduced. They may also find it increasingly difficult to eat and drink in the first place.
- Inability to focus. Many cancer patients find that during their final weeks of life they struggle to concentrate. They may find it difficult to carry out a conversation or to follow television programs. The patient may also find that they lose interest in most activities and hobbies.
Symptoms in the Final Days of Cancer
- Disorientation. During their final days of life, the cancer patient may experience confusion and delirium. They may not be able to recognize their own family or friends. While this is understandably distressing for caregivers and loved ones, please keep in mind that this is a common symptom of cancer during this stage.
- Incontinence. Many cancer patients lose the ability to control their bowels and bladder during the final stages of cancer.
- Rattling breaths. A build-up of fluid in the patient’s throat may cause them to make rattling sounds when they breathe. The patient’s breathing patterns may also slow.
How to Manage End-stage Cancer
End-stage cancer is an upsetting and stressful time for the patient and caregivers alike. However, even when they lack medical training, family caregivers can still help manage the final weeks of stage 4 cancer by providing care and comfort.
When a cancer patient is experiencing disorientation and confusion, it is of course very distressing for caregivers—but it is distressing for the patient as well. A family caregiver can help by offering reassurance, answering questions, or simply by providing a listening ear and being present.
Healthcare professionals can also provide useful advice on how to help care for patients in the final stages of cancer. They can advise you on palliative care to help manage the cancer symptoms and ease the patient’s suffering. Palliative care can be offered separately from hospice care, meaning that you can make use of palliative treatments without involving a hospice.
How to Help Your Loved One With Cancer
As a family caregiver, you can offer further support at the end of the patient’s life—both emotional and practical.
There are the practicalities of finances to consider. You should talk to the patient about their financial plan and should also help them make sure that any legal affairs are in order.
As well as helping the patient deal with these practical manners, you should also speak with them to see how they would prefer to live out their final weeks and days with cancer. You can help arrange for hospice care, help plan their funeral, or perhaps offer to help them live out a lifelong dream to make their final days on earth that bit brighter.
Hospice care can be a tremendous help in a patient’s final days. Not only is it beneficial for the patient, but it can help the caregiver as well, providing them with much-needed support. Whether you need practical, emotional, or even spiritual assistance, hospice professionals and volunteers are there for you.
If you would like to find out more about hospice eligibility, or about the different services hospices have to offer, you can contact All American Hospice.