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Grief and Loss Program

When the cancer advances

Learning your loved one’s cancer has advanced to the point treatment is no longer helping is an emotional and anxious time. It’s normal to not know what to say or worry that you’ll say something wrong. There is no "right way" to talk about this. What’s most important is your loved one knows you care.

Advanced Directives

If you and your loved haven’t done so already, this is a good time to work on advanced directives. These are legal documents patients use to spell out decisions about end-of-life care. It’s the best way to make sure the cancer care team, your family and friends all know what you want. This is important because as cancer advances, you may not be able to tell them on your own. Learn more by downloading the Advanced Directives Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care booklet [pdf] with forms.

Making decisions about advanced cancer and end of life

For many families, the cancer patient has the final word. In some families, the patient may give the final word to the caregiver. This can be very difficult because:

  • Other family members may disagree with your decision (s)
  • The patient may have different beliefs about care than you or other loved ones
  • You and your loved one may not agree with your cancer care team

It’s not uncommon for families to disagree about these decisions. When it does, ask a member of the cancer team to lead a discussion with the family. They can explain the options, offer advice and prepare you for next steps.

Palliative Care

Many people view palliative care in a negative way, but it’s actually very positive. Anyone of any age at any stage in a serious illness can take advantage of palliative care.

Palliative care focuses on improving the quality of life by helping patients and caregivers manage the symptoms of a serious illness and side effects of treatment. It’s designed to work with the health care team to help people with a serious illness live as well as they can for as long as they can.

The Rogel Cancer Center provides palliative care as part of their Symptom Management Clinic. In addition, Michigan Visiting Nurses provides palliative care (and other in-home services). If you don’t have access to the University of Michigan’s services, please visit Get Palliative Care to find providers near you.

Hospice Care

Hospice care is used when cancer treatment can no longer cure or control the cancer. In general, hospice care should be used when a person is expected to live about 6 months or less if the illness runs its usual course. People with advanced cancer should have a discussion with their family members and doctor to decide together when hospice care should begin.

What are the advantages to hospice care?

The hospice philosophy accepts death as the final stage of life: it affirms life, but does not try to hasten or postpone death. Hospice care treats the person and symptoms of the disease, rather than treating the disease itself. A team of professionals work together to manage symptoms so that a person’s last days may be spent with dignity and quality, surrounded by their loved ones. Hospice care is also family-centered – it includes the patient and the family in making decisions.

Learn more:

Resources Offered by the Grief and Loss Program:

Please call the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center at 1-877-907-0859 for more information related to grief support resources.


The Grief and Loss Program is made possible by gifts to the Patient and Family Support Services Program. Learn how you can help by visiting our Make a Gift web pages.

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