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On Dying to Know Day (8 August), we are encouraged to start a conversation about the one thing we all have in common. Who better to talk to than Deb, one of the compassionate voices you’ll hear at the end of the phone when you call 13 11 20. To get the conversation started, we’ve asked Deb to share her story.

Every year, our support nurses at Cancer Council talk to around 40,000 people impacted by cancer. People contact us across every stage of their cancer experience, and sadly, end-of-life conversations are common.

Many end-of-life (and cancer) questions often relate to what it might be like and feel like. They are wondering who can be there for them and how to talk about things that are important to them. People worry about how their families will cope physically and emotionally.

Having said that, I want to add that people’s reactions to end-of-life are varied and complex. Everyone’s life experience is different, and it is the same with end-of-life. Some people have given it a lot of thought, but for others it is too painful to think about.

Many people have a clear idea of what they want, but if they become unwell suddenly, they might have to change their decisions or make them quickly.

For many people in Australia, end-of-life is a taboo subject that simply isn’t talked about. Many people find it confronting and can’t see the benefits of talking freely about these things. At Cancer Council, we would love families and friends have these conversations, they are so important.

Having an independent counsellor or professional willing to talk about issues that are important to the person who is dying can be invaluable. You can also work out ways of talking to family and friends about the things that are important to you.

We can help someone facing end-of-life because all our nurses are experienced in talking about difficult topics.  Because we’re not friends or family, people feel free to explore the issues that are really worrying them. Sometimes just talking is enough but we can also put people in touch with other services that might be helpful.

I would recommend to anyone facing end-of-life due to cancer to consider (if they are well enough) planning what happens to them, from making a will to talking about their wishes. Thinking about how they want to be cared for in their final days is important too.

I often speak with friends and family members of people facing end-of-life. They are concerned about what the immediate future looks like and what might happen after someone they care for dies. For many, this is something they’ve never experienced before, so they don’t know what to expect. For others, their loved one has been ill for a long time and they’ve been in a supportive role. Some, sadly, have very little time to prepare for a future without the friend or family member.

13 11 20 nurses have a broad range of skills to support callers in both a practical and emotional sense. We don’t mind who we talk to and can offer an experienced, evidenced-based, and caring space for people to discuss difficult topics.

The need for practical support will change over time. Some people need a little help for a long time and others need more involved care over a shorter period. Helping people know what is available and how to access it is an important part of our role. For most people in the last days, they will need some practical things to make them more comfortable.

At Cancer Council SA, we make people aware of all the options available and where to go for help. In some instances, we can put people in touch with a lawyer or financial planner, if they need to make a will or access financial information. If you contact 13 11 20, we can talk you through who’s eligible for practical assistance and how to go about it.

I’d encourage anyone impacted by end-of-life and cancer to call our nurses at the Cancer Council on 13 11 20. The main reason being is because people worry. They worry about all the unknowns surrounding end-of-life. They have emotional, practical, and spiritual concerns. They worry about their families and friends and being a burden to them. Sometimes just being able to discuss these things in a safe, professional way helps ease their minds.

I feel honoured to do this for a living, and if I help just one person find a moment of peace, that’s everything.

To talk with our compassionate, highly-trained nurses about end-of-life, please contact Cancer Council on 13 11 20 or visit our website at