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    DD, Aged 17

    When people would talk they didn't know what to say which was understandable.  more...


    Mimi - 15 years old

    I lost myself doing stupid things, angry and sad and depressed at everything. I ended up failing my classes, not caring about school, and getting into fights.  more...


    Chelsea - 14 years old

    I stuck my head round the door in the room mum was in, and she looked really ill. I couldn't understand what was happening - one minute my mum was fine and the next she was ill.  more...


    Clair - aged 14

    Something I wish is I could just have one more day with my dad! - to tell him how much I love him and how sorry I am for all the bad things I have said and done to him!  more...


    Nicole - 17 years old

    This time the doctors are unable to operate. He has already had 6 sessions of chemo and is having another 6 sessions. I cannot help feeling I may lose him.  more...


    Rirrif - 15 years old

    I have been staying with my dad because my mom doesn't want me around when she is sick, which is all the time. My dad works at night so I spend a lot of time alone since I'm not with my mom. I'm afraid she is going to die and I'll blame myself for not being there more. more...


    HT - 13 years old

    She has been so strong about this and is keen to put it all behind her.  more...

If it's incurable does it mean it's terminal cancer?

Hi, my mum has been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. I'm a little confused, I understand it's incurable but what does that mean for her and could it be classed as terminal cancer if it's incurable and she will have it forever. If you could give me some more detail I would really appreciate it. Thank you

I’m very sorry to hear that your mum has been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer. I may be wrong but I get the impression that this is all new to you so I imagine that it must have been a huge shock to be told something like this.

It’s quite understandable that you’re feeling a little confused about it all and particularly the terminology that are used by both health care professionals and also by others around you. You have not said anything about where in the body your mum has secondary cancer. Secondary cancer means that the cancer has spread to a different part of the body from where it started. When this happens it is usually (with most cancer types) not possible to completely cure somebody from a cancer illness and with breast cancer that is also the case. So in that sense, you are right in that the cancer would be incurable and she would live with it forever.

Regarding the word terminal, people tend to use that in different ways so that can be quite confusing and sometimes lead to huge misunderstandings. I would certainly not say that a cancer is terminal just because it is incurable. I would say that the correct way of using the word ‘terminal’ would be when someone has a very short time left to live, I would say days or possibly a few weeks. But as I say, people use the word terminal differently and sometimes they say it’s terminal when they mean that it can’t be cured because in the end the cancer is likely to be what causes their life to end (terminate). Other times they say it’s terminal when they have been told that there are no more treatments that can control the cancer.

I say all of this because I don’t want you to be scared if someone uses the word terminal because they may just mean that it is incurable. Having an incurable cancer is of course also serious but there is often lots of treatments available to keep the illness under control. Particularly with breast cancer, there are very good treatments indeed, and people can live for very many years with secondary breast cancer and function very well. Of course, I don’t know any details about your mum’s medical situation and only those treating her can say what is likely to happen in her particular situation.

I hope this has made it a little clearer but what I’ve said is general and I think it would be good for you to talk to your mum about her particular situation. It’s probably quite important that you talk openly about this in the family so that you don’t misunderstand each other by using different terminology that may not be clear to everybody. Using the ‘wrong’ words can cause a lot of anxiety that perhaps isn’t justified…

I don’t know what support you have around you and whether you feel that you need people to talk to about this. If so, we are here for you and you can talk things through with us over email by using the 'get in touch' form anytime now or in the future. You may also find support in reading stories from other young people on riprap and you may want to have a look in riprap’s online forum to connect with others there if you feel like it.

Warm wishes


Page updated 13 July 2016