Lynda Bellingham Diagnosed With Terminal Cancer: How To Cope With Untreatable Illness

Every year in the UK, around 41,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer and around 16,000 people die from the disease, making it the second biggest cancer killer.

Lynda has decided to end her chemotherapy treatment so she can have one last Christmas at home with her family. A diagnosis of an incurable illness undeniably has a huge impact on a patient, but it also affects their loved ones, too.

Speaking to HuffPost UK Lifestyle, Bowel Cancer UK chief executive Deborah Alsina, said: “People deal with their diagnosis in different ways but it can have physical, psychological, and emotional effects, as well as causing financial and relationship issues.

"Therefore access to holistic support and care which is tailored to meet the needs of all those affected is essential. Some patients and their families also find it helpful to meet others in the same situation.”


So how might someone in Lynda's position be feeling?

Dr Tom Stevens, consultant psychiatrist at London Bridge Hospital says anxiety is often the overwhelming emotion.

"The emotional response can be different in different people, although my experience has been that one of the biggest problems here is anxiety. Fear of pain, incapacity, death and the consequences of death can all lead to avoidance of actions to prepare oneself," he says.

According to Dr Stevens, patients often neglect to ask about pain relief or miss out on seeing someone who is important to them if they are overwhelmed by anxiety.

Knowing what to say to a terminally ill person to help ease their anxiety can be difficult, but psychotherapist and counsellor Karin Sieger says there is no set way to provide support.

"There is no blue print for how to deal with death, neither is there a straight forward way how to best deal with being told you have a terminal illness. We all have to find our own way through it," she says.

"A helpful way of bearing is to stop pretending we need to find a solution. Death is painful and messy, it is human."

Karin points out that, as Lynda has demonstrated, being diagnosed with a terminal illness does not necessarily mean a person loses the ability to make choices. They can think about what they want to do with the time they have left and consider where they want to die. Making choices can help with coming to terms with death.

"That way we do not lose our identity, self-respect and humanity. Life and death can become seamless and more bearable," Karin adds.

Seeking practical, as well as emotional advice can help patients and their friends and family in this situation.

Dr Stevens gives this advice for all patients and carers:

  • Do not believe that the professional support is over. Understand how pain can be managed and what is available to help in terms of care and support.
  • Do not avoid the implications of this advice and talk about it with those to whom you are close.
  • Live in the present and use your time to do things that you want to do. Spend time with people you want to be with.
  • Think about the conversations that you wished you had had with the people whom you wanted to have them with and maybe now is the time to have these conversations.
  • Don't avoid sorting out power of attorney for your affairs if you lose capacity, consider the life of those whom you care about after you die and how you want to be remembered.

For more information and support on bowel cancer, visit

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