Georgia Dixon


Practical ways to help someone with a terminal illness

Practical ways to help someone with a terminal illness

We’ve looked at ways to care for terminally ill people before, but what about those simple, day-to-day tasks you can assist with to make their lives a little easier? Often the best thing you can do to help someone who is dying is continue as normal, giving them a hand with whatever small things you can.

That was exactly the case for Ruth and Andrew Terracini. Three years ago, Ruth was diagnosed with inoperable stage 4 bowel cancer and had no idea how much time she had left – she didn’t want to know.

In the days, weeks and months after her diagnosis, Ruth wrote a piece for the Canberra Times reflecting on her final days and sharing some very poignant advice for people, like her husband, who found themselves in the position of carer to a terminally ill person.

Ruth sadly passed away a year ago, just before her 42nd birthday, but her words live on and will continue to inspire countless others. Here are just a few of her best pieces of advice.

  • Just help. If you feel like helping them around the house, don’t ask for chores – just do it. “Understand that it is hard, and energy sapping, for the person to ask for specific help.”
  • Don’t feel obligated. Helping out of obligation is only going to lead to resentment. “Do it out of love, or not at all. Be truly happy to help.”
  • Commit. Cancer (and other terminal illnesses) can last years. Don’t offer to be by their side 24/7 in the beginning stages of their diagnoses if you’re not willing to continue months, even years later. “Help in various forms is just as much needed down the track as it is in the shock of the first few weeks after diagnosis.”
  • Don’t be fooled by appearances. Every cancer patient has good and bad days, but even if they look healthy, keep in mind that their bodies (and minds) are dealing with “all sorts of things you may not be aware of,” from waiting for test results to adjusting to treatment.
  • You don’t have to go big. Caring for a terminally ill person isn’t about “grand gestures,” Ruth believed. Just be there for them in whatever way you can.
  • Care for the carer. Is the carer (whether it’s yourself or someone else) receiving enough support? They may be going through as difficult a time as the patient themselves.
Have you been in this difficult position before? How did you offer help? Share your story with us in the comments below – you never know how much you might help another person.

Related links:

7 cancer warning signs to be aware of

How to cope with grief and learn from it

How to cope with gut-wrenching loss

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