Accepting a Cancer Patient's Treatment Decisions and End-of-Life Wishes

September 08, 2021
Accepting a Cancer Patient's Treatment Decisions and End-of-Life Wishes

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Michael Guerrera.

A cancer diagnosis is a terrible thing and can feel surreal. Such a diagnosis affects far more people than just the cancer patient themselves. Friends and family will all, in some way, have their lives changed by such a diagnosis. At the same time, a cancer diagnosis is an intensely personal thing. Everyone is going to react differently to this information, and everyone is going to handle cancer diagnosis and treatment in a different way. 

This can often lead to intense personal conflicts between a patient and their loved ones. Everyone wants what they feel is best for the patient, but they may not agree on what this is. Emotions can run very high when treatments are the topic of discussion. This piece will discuss how to support someone with cancer, even through disagreements over cancer treatment options. 


One of the best ways to support someone with cancer is to investigate all of the options as soon as a diagnosis is received. Don’t give advice immediately. Listen first to deepen your understanding of the options and the patient’s needs and desires.

A cancer patient may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, some even conflicting. They may be angry, resentful, scared, confused, or depressed. Before you even begin discussing cancer treatment options, you should let the cancer patient be open about their feelings. Doing this will help you in later discussions. If you know a patient is mostly feeling scared, you will know that refusals of treatment may be motivated by fear and you can adjust your conversation accordingly. 


Once someone has made up their mind about a subject, it can be difficult to make them change their mind. When discussing care with your loved one, you should go through all of the cancer treatment options, including their risks and drawbacks. You should explain what processes like chemotherapy should entail. 

You should also give a realistic assessment of what you and other family members can do to help. When discussing chemotherapy, for example, you could discuss how you can help make a care package for chemo patients. Getting to this information first will mean that you won’t need to quibble facts later - and making sure the patient knows that there are those that will help them will make them feel less isolated.

Ultimately, you’ll need to accept the decision that your loved one makes regarding their treatment and quality of life, but informing them about all of their options and the side effects can take away the guilt that might come from this acceptance when it isn’t what you’d choose for your loved one or yourself.  

Don’t Be Confrontational 

At some point, a cancer patient is going to make a decision you disagree with. This could be in the choice of treatments or a refusal of treatments altogether. One of the most difficult parts of how to support someone with cancer is discussing options that have the consequences of pain or death. When you care about someone, it can be heartbreaking to see them refuse treatment or seek out cancer treatment options that seem to be clear scams.

It’s important that when discussing these matters that you have a conversation, not an argument. Both you and the patient want what is best for them, but you may disagree over the methods. You can, of course, debate points brought up, but do so in a calm and rational manner, respecting the emotions the patient may be feeling.

Respect Decisions 

Sometimes the best argument you have is time. State your case plainly, and then let the cancer patient consider it. Come back to it at a later date.

Sometimes there will be no chance of changing someone’s mind about cancer treatment options. In this case, it is best that you respect what is a very personal decision. Not only does this show your respect for the patient, but it prevents you from being seen as an opponent. This leaves the door open for you to continue to have input about cancer-related topics in the future and to continue to cultivate a positive relationship with them. 

In the meantime, you should never stop doing what you can to support the patient and show them love and kindness. Helping them with chores and transportation, as well as making a care package for chemo patients are all ways to give your support.

Get The Support You Need

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