Hope means different things to different people. For many, it is about being optimistic and positive in the face of reality. It is not unusual for someone with an incurable illness to lose hope (also called helplessness), let their illness take over and even say they want to die. Unrelenting symptoms and loss of independence can all become too much.

Even if there is no hope of a cure, you can still have other hopes and dreams – for the relief of your symptoms, for comfort and peace, for your relationships, for your family and friends. Any or all of these hopes can help you sustain a good quality of life.

Losing hope because you do not think you or those around you can cope any longer is not necessarily the same as the often serene acceptance at the end of life that the battle is no longer worth fighting. It may take a professional – either physical, psychological or both – to pick the difference.

It is important for you, and particularly your family and friends, to recognise that a sense of hopelessness is often not a permanent state of mind, but an emotional symptom they need to recognise and help you deal with.


Reading inspiring biographies and other accounts from people who have battled serious illness and adversity may help if you feel you have lost hope.

Talk to your Doctor

Your doctor or specialist may be able to assure you that there are still things you can do to cope with your illness physically. They may refer you to a mental health worker who can help you find hope emotionally.

You may find it difficult to communicate with your doctor about loss of hope. You can complete the hope assessment guide (64kb pdf) to help you talk about loss of hope.

Set goals

Setting small goals and making plans for the near future can help build a sense of optimism and give you something to work towards each day.

Be inspired

Talking to someone who has experienced similar feelings may help you work through the despair. The Cancer Council’s Cancer Connect network 13 11 20 can put you in touch with groups and individuals you may seek inspiration from. People in these groups may also have suggestions about books or articles that have helped them.

Rethink your expectations

Hope does not have to be an all-encompassing emotion. Relatively small things – such as days when you feel good, looking forward to activities you enjoy and watching those around you thrive – can provide hope in smaller, but effective, doses. Some people find comfort and hope in their faith or religious beliefs.

Last updated 30 August 2015