How do you truthfully answer the question, "Am I dying?"

Jesshelper asked...

My grandmother is in the last stages of breast cancer. I go everyday to change her bandage and make sure she has everything she needs. She keep saying she thinks she's dying. Than she asks me if I think she is. I know she doesn't have to much longer left but I don't really know how to answer her question and comfort her at the same time

Expert Answer

Audrey Wuerl, RN, BSN, PHN, is education coordinator for Hospice of San Joaquin in California. She is also a geriatric trainer for the End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC), which promotes education in geriatric nursing and end-of-life care.

It is always hard to answer difficult questions, especially ones like your grandmother is asking. You have not given too much information regarding whether she is confused, has dementia, or has other disease processes going on. But, the fact that you are giving her care and "being there" for her is very admirable.

Now would be the time to talk with her primary care physician about hospice care. Hospice can help with her overall care, such as dressing changes, medications for pain or other distressing symptoms, and help support her and you through this difficult time. Don't try to do all this alone. Often times, families wait too long before asking for help. No doubt your grandmother realizes something very serious is going on with her body, even if she doesn't know its breast cancer.

When she asks if she is dying or doesn't have much time left, be as truthful as you feel you can. By not saying anything, is in fact, saying something. People with life-limiting illnesses should be treated with honesty and with respect. Please know that what you are doing for her now, by being with her, is providing a great deal of comfort!