Endorsed by the European Oncology Nursing Society

Planning for end of life

Planning for end of life image

We will all, one day, be faced with the end of life, whether we have cancer or not. It can be confronting to deal with end-of-life planning, but many people take solace in knowing their wishes will be respected and that the stress of making choices is lifted from their loved ones.1

If you are transitioning to this stage, or are planning ahead, you may like to think about the following questions regarding your quality of life:

  • Which is most important to you: a longer life or a better quality of life?2
  • Are there any religious or spiritual beliefs that are important to you?3,4
  • Would you prefer to die at home or in a hospital?4

Think about your answers and, if necessary, take steps to make sure your wishes can be achieved, for instance by talking to your medical team or by reaching out to a place of worship if you need advice, even if you are not active in their community.3,4

You may also want to make some personal treatment choices:

  • When would you want to stop treatment?2
  • What side effects could make your life unbearable?2
  • Would you want to be resuscitated or put on life support?1
    - You have a right to refuse treatment, if you so choose;4 ask someone from your care team where to find appropriate documents and legal resources or click here
  • When is it time to enlist hospice care?
    - Talk with your doctor or nurse about hospice care, or click here for more resources

There are a number of legal aspects to this phase of your life:

  • Create or update your will, making sure to consult a lawyer if needed2
  • Designate a trusted person as your medical power of attorney;2 ensure that this person understands your specific wishes and what is expected in his or her role; click here for more information

Most people have some 'unfinished business' in their lives; it will probably help you emotionally to tie up some loose ends:

  • Think about resolving any difficult or estranged relationships you have; some people find it helpful to write a letter or meet in person4
  • You may want to leave a memento to your loved ones; you could write a letter, record a video, give a special present, or make a scrapbook4

Arranging a funeral for a loved one is always emotionally intense. It will be easier for those you leave behind if they know they are fulfilling your wishes. Think about the following questions:4

  • Would you like to be buried or cremated?
  • Is there a specific place you would like to be buried or for your ashes to be scattered?
  • What clothes would you like to be dressed in?
  • Are there specific songs, poems, religious texts, or flowers you would like at your ceremony? 

Everybody will make their own individual choices. Your choices are right for you. Make sure to write down your decisions, discuss them with your loved ones, and leave the list in a place where it can easily be found.



  1. National Cancer Institure. Planning the transition to end-of-life care in advanced cancer - advanced planning. Accessed March 2016.
  2. Chauhan C, Editor. Incidental finding essays on renal cell carcinoma. Wichita, KA: Tall Grass Books; 2006.
  3. National Cancer Institute. Planning the transition to end-of-life care in advanced cancer - decisions to be made. Accessed March 2016.
  4. Macmillan. End of life: a guide. Accessed March 2016.