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OpryLeigh's avatar

I have just learnt that a dear friend has been given only weeks to live please can someone advise me on what to expect when I see her?

Asked by OpryLeigh (25260points) April 22nd, 2010

A friend has been battling lung cancer for years now and today I learnt that it has spread to the brain and so she only has weeks to live. Naturally I want to see her before she passes away but I want to prepare myself. Her daughter told me that she is very confused and can’t speak because her voicebox has gone and “not to expect her to be anything like how she was when I saw her a few months ago”. Please can someone help me prepare myself. I hear cancer makes you lose a lot of weight in the final stages but other than that, I don’t know. Please help, I’m scared that I won’t be able to stay strong for her.

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43 Answers

holden's avatar

I don’t have any advice, I just wanted to lend my condolences. I’m very sorry.

anartist's avatar

All I have ever heard about last stages of life is last thing one usually loses is hearing. Hearing your voice may be the most comforting thing she could know. I am so sorry. Just be glad that you can see her to say goodbye. I sat with a friend and her dying spouse not too long ago and she and i just chatted about all kinds of stuff, sometimes we addressed him without expecting an answer, some, but not all, of the stories we told were experiences we had enjoyed with him He could not participate but I think from the few movements he made he enjoyed himself. He was gone the next day. Go with someone else she knows and chat.

janbb's avatar

I just went out to see my Mom who has suffered some strokes and is now in her final decline. She also has lost a lot of weight and is not speaking and has some dementia. I was very worried about what would be but then surprised and pleased at how much of her remained. I was so happy that she knew me and how much pleasure it gave her to see me. Also, I don’t think you have to set up unreal expectations for yourself – you will feel what you feel and if you want to cry, you can cry. Your friend knows it is sad. Just be yourself, express your feelings for her and be as affectionate as you feel like being. As I said, I was very anxious and then so pleased and enriched by the experience. My heart goes out to you.

rebbel's avatar

Fortunately i have never had to deal with such sorry things, but i would suggest to visit your girlfriend, not her body.
If that makes sense…
Visit the woman you shared experiences with, you laughed with, cried with, etc.
Try to look pass her physical condition.
I see that might be a difficult task, but still…

I feel for you, and your friend.

Edit: And what @janbb said.
Good one…, Also, I don’t think you have to set up unreal expectations for yourself – you will feel what you feel and if you want to cry, you can cry.

Keysha's avatar

Aris has cared for many in their final days. I have shown him this and he is crafting a response. I hope he can help, and I give you, and her, my condolences.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Just go and don’t say anything. Sit next to her, look her in the eyes lovingly and spend some silent time together. Sometimes words are not necessary, a person just needs someone by their side. At some point calmly tell her you are by her side and her daughter’s side. Just be warm, smile and reassure her that you are there for whatever they may need. Silence can sometimes be so fulfilling.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@anartist My mum is going to be with me. She works at the hospital that our friend has been visiting regularly for the past five or so years so she will be a tower oof strength for me. Thank you for te advise about the hearing, mostly I just want to thank her for something she did for me last year that made me feel very loved so I am pleased that she will be able to hear me say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

@holden and @OneMoreMinute thank you for your condolences. I never have advice for questions like these either but it’s nice that you took the time to answer anyway.

Taciturnu's avatar

First, I’m sorry that you and your friend have to face this.


Cancer is ugly. People get weak, sometimes there is a lot of pain, sometimes there is none. People in pain are treated with narcotic painkillers, and they will often lose lucidity as a result. Sometimes people are responsive sometimes they aren’t. There are good days and bad days. There isn’t a true way to tell you what to expect unless there’s someone with her that can convey her condition to you before your arrival.

If I may, do not worry about being “strong” for her. It’s OK to show her that you will miss her, and crying is one way of showing that you love her. If you find that you are overwhelmed, it would likely be best to excuse yourself for a minute, then return. Talk to her like you always have, even if she doesn’t respond. Tell her you love her, and wish her well on her journey.

Best of luck to you, I will keep you in my thoughts. If you would like to talk privately, feel free to message me.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

My dad had lung cancer and he did get pretty thin in the last year of his life.He went from a 6’3” 225 pound man to a mere shadow of himself.He had sores on his hands and arms.His voice was raspy and he did not have the same vigor.At all.Except….
he had his mind.He was still quick to laugh even in his weakened state,and we talked about everything :) It might be a shock to see your friend,but try to get past the shock of their looks and see the beauty of the person:)
I am sorry about your friend.<<HUGS>>

OpryLeigh's avatar

@janbb I am scared that she won’t know who I am as her daughter has said she doesn’t even recognise her own home most days.

marinelife's avatar

Even though it ill be hard, try to remember that you need to keep your feelings about the loss of your friend and the changes you find in her (which may be shocking) to handle on your own.

Try not to put them on to her.

Talk about things you have always talked of. Do not mention her impending death unless she does. If she does, then acknowledge it.

Vunessuh's avatar

Being strong isn’t about not crying. You’re already exhibiting a lot of strength by visiting her in her final state. Being strong is about getting everything out that you want to say, even if it means crying and breaking down to get through it. Yes, your friend will observe your sadness, but in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with showing it to her. I would mostly talk about the past and give her some good memories to reflect back on. Don’t leave until you’ve said everything you’ve needed to say. Whatever emotions come naturally to you during that time are the right emotions and you wouldn’t be doing her or yourself a favor by stopping them. Just remember that strength has very little to do with bottling up your emotions.
Sorry to hear about your friend, hon.

OpryLeigh's avatar

Thank you for the kind words everyone. It’s strange but when I found out about this I knew that I would be able to get some words of wisdom from Fluther. I really am grateful to have you guys right now even though I (as far as I am aware) have never met you.

Jude's avatar

My Mom died of Ovarian cancer. The last month of her life, she lost an extreme amount of weight. She was on morphine during that time, so, at times, she was out of it. Either she was asleep, awake and confused (at times hallucinations), or she was fine – meaning she was well aware of what was going on.

During her last two weeks she barely ate. Maybe, a bite of watermelon, if that, per day. The last week, they didn’t even bother bringing her a food tray. She hardly drank, as well.
Maybe, a few sips of gingerale/day.

Slept most of the time, only to be awaken when turned or when the nurses had to do some blood work/testing.

My Mom never got out of bed the last two months of her life.

When you’re there, hold her hand and talk to her. Even if she seems as though she is sleeping, she may just be on heavy morphine, talk to her. She can hear you.

Do what you can for her family. Offer to go for a coffee run and/or pick up food for the family. During the last few weeks, they won’t want to leave her side. Also, offer to sit with her if they need to go outside to get some air. The biggest thing for my Mom and my girlfriend’s Grandma the last few weeks, they didn’t want to be alone.

My heart goes out to you. Try to be strong…

Arisztid's avatar

First, this is going to be hard on both of you and your presence is going to make her time easier. When I say that I admire you for standing by your friend, that is an understatement. I wish I could give you more than one “great question.” I worked hospice for a decade, tending many cancer patients, and my father died at home from cancer, me tending him.

Prepare yourself to be strong for her, try to not show your distress directly to her overmuch. However, do not hide it from her. My father died from cancer at home and I was with him until the end, holding his hand as he passed. I did not let myself cry near him other than once. The one time I did he stroked my hair and, from what I could tell, while this saddened him, it did not upset him. Whether or not you cry around your friend depends on her mindset.

Trying to pretend that nothing is wrong is not going to be helpful. Dwelling on it also is not helpful. Distracting your friend with tales of her life and things you and she did together would be a good way to make her end times more tolerable. If she reaches the point of confusion where she does not understand what you say, still talk to her… it does matter. She might appear completely confused but inside she understands to varying degrees. She might, indeed, not understand anything but she shall feel a kind voice.

Find a way for her to communicate back to you, say, a series of blinking for when she has deteriorated quite a bit and a, I think they are called, whiteboard and pen for when she can write. Her expression shall tell much of what she thinks and feels.

Now I am going to tell you what to expect physically.

You shall be shocked and upset by her physical deterioration. When you first see it it shall be quite distressing. Be ready for it… I cannot commend you sufficiently for having asked this question.

Expect her to become progressively more disoriented as the brain cancer takes its toll. She is going to have times of more lucidity and times of less, the overall lucidity decreasing. Eventually she may not appear to recognize you… this could actually be the case but often the patient does recognize you. She might eventually not be able to communicate in any way. Do not take this to mean that she is unaware of you.

Unless she has adequate pain control, she is probably going to be in increasing pain, requiring high doses of morphine, dilaudid, a phenergan patch, etc.

Cancer also has a smell to it, at least one that I can smell. It is usually not strong but it is noticable.

She shall most likely be incontinent of bowel and bladder, probably shall have a catheter to take her urine. I am hoping that she is kept clean but, even when a patient is kept clean, usually the smells of incontinence linger.

You say that you are afraid you shall not be strong for her. I am willing to bet that you shall be strong enough because you are intelligent and caring enough to ask this question.

If you need someone to talk to, feel free to PM me. Along with my father dying of cancer in our home I have worked hospice. One thing for you to remember that shall help you stay strong is that you are making her final days better.

phillis's avatar

I am so sorry, Leanne. I am sure that a lot of “Do you remember that time…....” stories will bring her great joy. She might even get a smile or giggle out of it! She can’t talk, but she might be able to sqeeze your hand. Once for yes, twice for no. Holding her hand also brings comfort because it’s the human touch of you, her friend. Touch can be so comforting, so please don’t let your fears make the decision to avoid physical contact.

Yes, her appearance will be drastically different. This is okay! It’s a very natural process. She is still the same person you’ve loved all these years, and who loves you in return.

Dont worry about what you will say. Your heart will find the words for you, and the warmth of your touch will help her find peace in the moments you are together. The whole process is scary, but it’s also very human. Just let your love dictate each moment. You’ll be very sad, and you will grieve, but you will be okay. Make sure you have your support systems in place. Again, my condolences.

faye's avatar

I can’t add anything except my condolences.

JLeslie's avatar

How very sad. In situations like this I want to be near the person, in the same room, their physical appearance never gets to me much, because my expectation is they will not look well; it hardly matters for some reason. She may be very weak, but still able to light up when she sees you enter the room, or smile if you tell a funny story. I hope that is the case, but hard to know what to expect. Even if she does not recognize you, I think she will know you are there because you love her.

DocteurAville's avatar

My most sincere condolences.

dpworkin's avatar

Try to remember that whatever terrible destructive things have happened to the envelope that holds her consciousness, your friend is still in there, and she will be glad you came to see her. Just continue to love what’s inside, and try not to focus on the misleading outer shell.

wundayatta's avatar

I just saw my aunt Monday. She’s has two weeks to two months according to her husband. She’s just given up doing chemo. It might be helping her live longer, but the life was miserable. She’d rather live less long and be able to interact with people. That she did!

The chemo has “taken away her ass,” as she put it. She was in very good spirits, though, and we talked about the family and her kids and her bucket list, and even about what she thought about her impending death. She said the thing that bothers her the most is not seeing her kids grow. When I left, I told her good bye and that I hoped she had the best experience possible for the rest of her life. She knew what I meant, but she said, “I’m not dead, yet!”

It was good to hug her and kiss her good bye. She lives on the opposite side of the country from me,, and it is doubtful I will ever see her again. It made me feel good to acknowledge what was going on, and to express my feelings. However, I’ve been told by other cancer victims that so often, they end up comforting the visitor, when it’s supposed to be the other way around. I didn’t want to burden my aunt, but I did want to tell her how much I care for her, especially since she’s the relative I am closest to and feel most understood by.

Staying strong? I don’t know. I think it’s important to express your emotions and care, without burdening them. Many people decide to pretend nothing is happening, and they stay happy and positive and fake, You can tell I don’t think much of that. I think you can be positive while acknowledging what’s really going on and how you really feel. My aunt wants to have the best however long time she has left. I want that for her, and I am really happy to have seen her and spent time with her.

I guess I think that if you can express how happy you are to see the person, and how much love you have for them, then the sadness is appropriate and sensible. Just enjoy the time you do spend with her. Enjoy being with her, even if you say nothing and just look at each other and smile. Being there says more than anything else, and if you cry, that’s cool, too. She’ll know how you feel, and if you do it strongly, she won’t be burdened by it.

I’m sorry your friend is going through this, but be grateful that you have time to say goodbye. So often people leave us without having that chance, and that can rip your heart out.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I am saddened to hear about this. My deepest condolences. Keep in mind that somewhere in this final representation of her, your friend still survives. Try to act toward her as you would have acted had the cancer not affected her. Doctors say that the sense of hearing is usually the last to go. Tell her you love her and that you always will. Remind her of the happy times that the two of you have had together. Hold her hand, and tell her about things that are going on in your life. Normalcy is what she needs now, even if she’s unable to respond to you.

mollypop51797's avatar

First of all, i am SO sorry to hear this! I will keep both of you in my prayers. Now, the first thing to do is to not send vibes out of panic. The last thing that poor woman needs are people’s anxiety and grief. If she only has a few weeks to live, all you have to do is support her. Let her know that you love her, that she has made a difference in your life, and that you wouldn’t be the person you are today if she hadn’t crossed your path. Let her know how truly grateful you are for her friendship. Make the best of it. Most of these cancer patients eventually get to a time where they decide to move on. Maybe your friend has gotten here too, so just don’t put a burden on her or yourself. I wish you my deepest condolences. I know that you and she can make it.

janbb's avatar

@Leanne1986 I was afraid to see my Mom too and afraid she wouldn’t recognize me but she did and she lit up. That was amazing. Your friend may or may not know you but she will know that a loving presence is near by, I spoke to my mother of family matters, showed her pictures of her great-grandson and grandsons and talked of happy things in my life. I was amazed by how much cognition she showed. I was able to still see her in expresssions she made, even though she didn’t speak. A dear friend had encouraged me to go when I was doubtful and I am grateful to him for the encouragement. It was a very powerful experience.

CaptainHarley's avatar


People at both end of the spectrum of life often amaze us with how much they know and understand. We don’t give either babies or people near the end of life enough credit.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Sometimes when people are given ‘weeks to live’ they live a lot longer and it’s best to not expect them to pass ‘any day now’ and just be there, live with them as they are in that moment, that day and not wait constantly for something else to go wrong – just think about each day as a journey and make that journey enjoyable for her – ask the family if they have good hospice at home care – if not we (at the American Cancer Society – 1800–227-2345) can refer you and their family to a good agency.

anartist's avatar

people can have agenda that would surprise you—to hang in there until so-and-so arrives, until unfinished business is finished, until next tax year for inheritance reasons

aprilsimnel's avatar

There is nothing I can add to what @Arisztid said, so I’ll second him. The most important thing is that you’re there for your friend and you show her that you love her. You will be surprised at what you’re capable of handling once you get in a situation. When both my surrogate mother and father died some years ago, I was with them in their last days and sometimes it was enough (especially for Dad) that I was just there holding their hands and telling them that I loved them.

gailcalled's avatar

When my brother had only a few days left to live (non-Hogkin’s lymphoma), talking made him tired. He wanted us to listen to music together for much of the time, even though I was able to say good-bye.

When my mother-in-law was dying from ALS, she loved a good coffee milkshake.

Our culture, in general, does better with happy events than with the tragic ones, such as end-of-life issues.

You will not be able to plan how you will react; do what you need to do, but focus on her needs and wishes rather than yours for the moment.

I have a friend who lamented that she would never be able to read her eulogies. So I wrote her one; she is keeping it until needed, next to her will. We both enjoyed the experience.

dpworkin's avatar

I was sitting on the side of my dad’s bed when he died at home. i thought it would be an awful memory. It turns out to be a very comforting memory, and I think about it often. I miss my dad, and I’m glad I was there.

Jill_E's avatar

I have experienced this with a childhood longtime friend of mine dying of cancer. Her hubby warned me that she may not remember me. She started hospice care and soon morphine or heavily on morphine. It was the hardest drive to visit for I was afraid she would not remember me and didn’t know what to expect. And also will I be strong for her?

I walked in and I saw she was there but very confused and very frail. I saw her past beyond the failing body. The childhood friend I grew up with in her eyes. I held her hand and did most of the talking and we would laugh like old times if she didn’t fully understand. She did remember me but was very confused. It did seem like old times knowing she was in there and out of the blue she said “Purple” our favorite color when we were children. After a guessing 20 minute visit, she was very tired and didn’t want to stop our conversation. I told her to rest my friend and that will be nearby and under the same roof. I was downstairs and talked to her hubby and family about old and fun memories.

I will say a prayer for you and others affected by an awful thing called cancer.

Jill_E's avatar

Forgot to add…great advices above before me. What a great community in Fluther.

Sophief's avatar

I don’t know the answer to this. I just wanted to tell you that I am very, very sorry. You don’t know how much of a good person you are to want to see her, you would think it was normal to, but most people would shy away. You have my respect.

thriftymaid's avatar

I don’t think strangers can help prepare you for this. I lost someone to brain cancer and the last days were not easy for me, but I stayed with her most of those last days because I couldn’t bear the thought of her having lucid moments and realizing she was alone.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@thriftymaid You’d be amazed at what strangers can help us with! I asked Fluther because everyone in “real life” is too close to me and hurting like I am. I have felt very comforted by the posts above.

thriftymaid's avatar

@Leanne1986 Read as much as you want to. It will not prepare you.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@thriftymaid Maybe not but it is comforting right now and that is important.

janbb's avatar

@Leanne1986 I think the sharing does help. As I said, a few people shared their experiences with a dying parent (in my case) and that helped me decide to go and also framed what I might get out of it.

aclyn's avatar

That is so sad…...are there any really great memories you two have together that you can bring to her to cheer her up? Certain food or special places you two loved to go to that you can bring her to or somehow “bring to her”? Like that movie Patch Adams… he just brings the sunshine? I bet she’d love it, even if she can’t tell you, and if it seems like she can’t understand I bet she could!

Shippy's avatar

I’m sorry to hear your friend is so ill. The best thing I feel you can do, is just be you. Let her lead the visit, in whichever shape or form that takes, and give loads of hugs. I“m sure she will take comfort from that alone.

gailcalled's avatar

^^A kind response but the question was asked over two years ago.

OpryLeigh's avatar

@Shippy thank you for your input on this thread. My friend died about 2 weeks after I asked this question and, when the time came, it was easier than I thought to visit her even though she didn’t really know who I was by that point. Sadly I am now going through a similar thing with my great-grandmother who is dying of cancer. She was diagnosed last July and the doctors didn’t think she would make it to Christmas. Here we are in June and she is still a gang on but her quality of life is practically none existent and, I know, given though choice she would like to go sooner rather than later. It’s horrible to see her this way.

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