‘Fighting talk’ can leave people living with cancer unable to talk about death and dying

Section: The ALLIANCEType: News Item Date Published: 15th May 2018

Reluctance to talk honestly about death is preventing people with cancer from dying ‘well’, leading charity warns.

The need to ‘fight’ and remain positive could be having a negative effect on people living with cancer, a new report from Macmillan Cancer Support has revealed.

According to research by YouGov for Missed Opportunities, three quarters (76%) of people with cancer have thought about the fact that they may die from the condition. However, in-depth conversations with health and social care professionals and people with cancer reveal there are a number of barriers preventing honest conversations about dying from taking place.

Health and social care professionals report that one of the biggest barriers to introducing conversations about dying is the pressure to stay positive and support people to ‘fight’ cancer, even when they have received a terminal diagnosis.

In fact, of those people surveyed who had spoken to their healthcare team about dying, only 19% of conversations were initiated by a health or social care professional.

A quarter of people with cancer (25%) also admitted to not sharing their own thoughts about death and dying with anyone due to seeing themselves as a ‘fighter’. More than one in four (28%) find it difficult to talk honestly about their feelings around cancer, and a similar amount (28%) feel guilty if they cannot stay positive about their disease.

For many, this gulf in communication means vital conversations – particularly about end of life preferences and wishes for things such as where they would like to die – are not had until it is too late. This means thousands of people with cancer are unnecessarily dying in hospital against their wishes.

It is a commonly held belief that describing people with cancer as ‘fighters’, keeps a person’s spirits high and instils in them a sense that the professionals supporting them are helping them to ‘fight the battle’.

Although some may find this language helpful, Missed Opportunities highlights the challenging contradiction of this fighting talk for people at the end of their lives.

Read  – Macmillan ‘Missed Opportunities : Advanced Care Planning report’ (this link will take you away from our website).

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