Dignity means different things to different people but, in general, it is related to feelings of self-worth.

Your feelings of dignity, regardless of how far your cancer has progressed, may depend on controlling pain and symptoms, remaining independent, receiving honest but tactfully delivered news from your doctor, looking good and maintaining the highest quality of life possible.

What may help

Spell it all out

Your dignity is a team effort. You will do what you can, but you also need your health professionals, carers, family and friends to respect your wishes. It will help you and them if you think about what decisions and choices may lie ahead and spell out your preferences.

This may begin with talking frankly to those around you about the help you need and how you would like to interact with them. Ultimately, you may need to think about what you want to happen towards the end of life. Do you want to continue treatment after a certain point? Do you want to end up at home or stay in hospital?

You may like to prepare an Advance Care Directive, or living will, which outlines the medical care you wish to have, in case you can’t speak for yourself.

Talk to your Doctor

Talk to your Doctor, nurses and other health professionals about the things that are important to you so they can help you make plans that reflect your values. Tell them about your concerns regarding future care so they can help you live the way you would like.

Talk to your family

Your dignity will also be important to those closest to you. Talking to them about your wishes and values will help them make the right decisions now and in the future.

If your condition deteriorates, family members are usually the ones who talk with health professionals about your care. Therefore, open, honest and clear communication is critical.


If a family member or friend is in denial or too distressed to listen to your wishes, write them a letter they can refer to later. 

Life, Hope & Reality was developed and written by Afaf Girgis, Claire Johnson, and Sylvie Lambert with funding from the NHMRC and Cancer Council NSW.

Last updated 30 August 2015