When is the right time to tell a person they are terminal? The answer to this question is as varied as there are people. Truth is most people will tell you they want to know; so they can finalize their plans and ‘put their house in order’ so to speak. However, this is not the question, is it?
Medical science today makes the inevitable further and further out there in the future. Many people will have an idea, even if they never voice it. Some will tell you they know before the medical professional and others will tell the medical professional before they know. I will never forget working in an urgent care clinic, when a middle aged woman approached and ask to see the doctor. I ask the reason and she said to me, I feel as though I have a large ball right here in my chest. Because there certainly could have been a heart attack happening, she was sent right back. She told the doctor the same thing, he could not determine any unusual evidence and sent her to x-ray. The x-ray revealed a large mass about the size of a cantaloupe just below her heart. There was no way this patient could have known by sight that tumor was there.
The medical professionals seem to have a consensus that honesty is always the best way to approach this kind of information. They however will phrase it with all the medical testing and research being done so it is more easily accepted. Even in Palliative Care, they will tell the patient in jargon which leaves the beginnings of the diagnosis and will come back later with a little more. Always if a patient asks ‘the question’ the medical professional will tell the truth as they know it. We should do the same. I am not saying we should say, ‘your dying’; what I am saying is we should have open conversation far more frequently about death and dying so that the stigma is not there. Everyone will face their own mortality no matter what we do, wouldn’t it be better to do so in a far more relaxed conversation.