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Helping Teens Face Terminal Illness

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 14 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Terminal Illness Teens Illnesses Death

For a teen diagnosed with terminal illnesses, life takes a sharp turn and everything they once knew as normal is replaced with uncertainty. Ignoring this change in circumstances, or refusing to recognise the parts that are frightening, does not help anyone involved come to terms with a teen's terminal illness. Instead, those interested in helping teens face terminal illness should make a point of acknowledging the illness and death, but also helping teens plan for life. Seeking professional help may be crucial to getting the best support for everyone affected by a teen's terminal illness.

Acknowledging the Illness

Acknowledging a teen's illness, and how it will change both his or her life and the lives of those around them, is important because it helps teens understand that what they are going through is not unnoticed. Learning more about the illness itself, including the symptoms and pain a teen will live with, can help everyone stay on the same page about the journey they will take together. But it can be easy for others to do a massive amount of research and then consider themselves an expert on the subject. This may be true in a technical sense, but since the teen is the one living with the illness others should try not to forget that the teen is the true expert. In fact, allowing them to answer questions may help them feel more in control about what is happening to them too.

Discussing Death

Teens understand death and that a terminal illness leads to death. They are likely acutely aware that modern medicine can not stop their illness from progressing, and that their own parents, relatives and friends have no experience with either their illness or dying. This understanding, that there is no living person who can answer their questions about death or tell them about what happens next, may only add to their fears. Discussing death, and what your family believes happens after death, may be soothing for a teen. Allowing him or her to ask questions, express fears or anger and even disagree with accepted ideas about death may help him or her sort through all of his or her confusion and emotions. This will likely not happen in just one discussion however, so encouraging teens to talk whenever they need to is important.

Planning for Life

Focusing on life as much as death is important for a teen who is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Teens with terminal illnesses understand that their time left is limited and may grieve for all of the things that will never get to do. Rather than spending too much time and energy on things they can't have, encourage teens to plan for the life they have left. Ask them what they've always wanted to do, how they would like to spend their days, if there is any place they would like to go or people they would like to see. Spending this time together will not only allow teens with terminal illnesses to live out their days in enjoyable ways, but it will help friends and relatives build a collection of memories that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives as well.

Seeking Professional Help

Coming to terms with a teen's terminal illness can be difficult for everyone involved. Seeking professional help may make this process a little easier. Medical professionals can help with questions about the illness, treatments and/or dying while counsellors or therapists can help with the emotional aspects of the situation. Seeking assistance from a member of the clergy may bring spiritual or emotional comfort, and can help with questions about what happens after death. Support groups for terminally ill teens, their friends and family may also help everyone involved work through their emotions, have a safe place to confess fears or frustrations, have a "time out" from their home life and simply feel that they are amongst others who truly know what they are going through.

Helping teens face terminal illness means proactively approaching the situation. Acknowledging the illness, discussing death, planning for life and seeking professional help may all be a part of helping teens face terminal illness.

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