When Treatment Doesn’t Work

Although the majority of women survive breast cancer to live for many good years, for some the journey ends with the cancer taking over.

If this is happening to you, at some stage you may need to decide whether to stop fighting the cancer with active treatment (such as chemotherapy), and rely on palliative care to make your remaining days and weeks as comfortable and peaceful as possible.

Your healthcare team and those closest to you will be very important in making this decision, although at the end of the day, it has to be whatever feels to you to be the best.

See here for our section on palliative care.

Some of the websites we refer to have suggestions and help for you at this time.

BREASTCANCER.ORG looks at the dilemmas faced by someone deciding whether to carry on with active anti-cancer treatment (although what it has to say about financial considerations and hospice care is more relevant to the USA).

Willow considers various options for end-of-life care

For those living in remote communities, the options are more limited.  The only hospice care in NWT is in Yellowknife, for example, and going to hospital, for your final days, or for respite care, may mean travelling a long way from family and friends.  It is therefore especially important that you discuss the options with your loved ones and healthcare team to work out what can best be managed to ease your passing.

The booklet First Nations: Caring for the Terminally Ill was written for people living in small and remote communities and it looks at emotional and spiritual matters, as well as many very practical issues, such as caring for someone who is in bed all the time.  Although written for aboriginal people, it has information and advice relevant to those from other cultures, both for the dying person, and their care-givers.

Legal and other issues

There are a number of things to consider here.  As well as arranging for physical and spiritual care, most people facing the end of their life want to provide for their loved ones after they have gone.

  • Preparing an advance directive. This legal document gives instructions to your medical team in case the time comes when you can no longer do this yourself.  Giving directions on things like whether to resuscitate you, will make clear what you want and save your family making difficult decisions.
  • Making a will. Another legal document, this time setting out what should happen to your property after your death.  A will also enables you to say who should care for your children if they are under 19.
  • Arranging your funeral.

Making a will and talking about your own funeral can feel almost impossible to discuss with family and friends, but doing it often results in a huge sense of relief and closeness.

It is best not leave preparing legal documents until the last minute, especially if you live in a remote community, where accessing legal advice cannot generally be done very quickly.

The Willow link on this page also looks at the legal and practical arrangements you may want to make for yourself and / or for your loved ones.