Doc, how much time have I got?

For some cancer patients, by the time their cancer is diagnosed or because of how aggressive the cancer is, they will be told that the intent of their treatment is not to cure them of cancer, but to give them some more time. This can mean a variety of treatments or it may mean that the goal is to manage symptoms and side effects as best as they can.

In these cases, providers will likely have some sense of how long a patient is going to live. Some patients will want to know how long they have and others will opt to not be told. I have seen providers hesitate to answer the question, “How long do I have?” I think this can be for a number of reasons. The patient is saying they want to know, but do they really? Also, as best as a provider can predict this answer, there is a good chance that they will be wrong.

When you are faced with this type of diagnosis, you have the right to ask how much time your provider believes you have left to live. This can help you to manage the actual news, while preparing yourself and your family for your death. However, keep in mind that this date is not set in stone – but rather an educated guess.

In my experiences, I have seen patients soar past these “expiration” dates. They live full lives, for much longer than expected. I also saw patients get no where close to these dates and die much sooner than expected. Each scenario is different and we can’t forget that. If your provider gives you a specific amount of time just remember that this was an educated guess and that he or she could be wrong.

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