Understanding the Five Phases of Terminal Illness

There are phases of terminal illness that you may go through once you are diagnosed.

The initial or pre-diagnosis phase begins with the feeling that something just isn’t right. You may have gone to your doctor with complaints of feeling tired or you have stomach pains or whatever it is, you know something just isn’t right. This is when testing begins.

In the acute phase, you finally have a name/diagnosis for what you have been feeling. Your doctor will recommend a plan of treatment for you. Remember, it is important that you do what is right for you, not what you think is right for your doctor, family, friends, or even your pet! Be sure you understand the purpose of the treatments your physician recommends; are they palliative, aggressive, or experimental?

The term chronic phase in this case does not refer to a time period as it does with chronic illness; instead, it refers to the period of time when you may be adjusting to your terminal diagnosis. You may or may not be receiving treatment during this stage. In some cases, this time period may be very short while in other cases this it may last for years. You may experience the grief stages of anger, bargaining, and depression. If the illness extends over years, you may have difficulty accepting that you are even sick and experience the stage of denial again.

Just as "chronic" does not refer to the length of time you are ill, recovery phase does not mean you are actually recovering from the disease and heading towards wellness. It refers to an emotional recovery. Whether or not you are in remission, this recovery phase involves the ability to accept all aspects of your diagnosis.

In the terminal phase, you may experience a life threatening event which requires treatment designed for your comfort only. At this point, your physician may refer you to hospice. This is the turning point in your illness.

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