Hope is a funny thing. It is what keeps us going when it seems that all might be lost and what pushes us up to our limits trying to achieve something great. Hope is what makes you go up to someone in a bar and say hi despite your stomach doing backflips and it is what gives you the nerve to go in and ace an exam.

But most importantly, hope is what keeps you going against all odds. It is what keeps you smiling when you know you have a terminal illness and what wakes you up to another beautiful morning full of expectation. Love may be all you need but hope isn’t too far behind.

The problem is that hope can be evasive sometimes. It can creep into a dark corner and hide from you as you take in the bad news or find that you are struggling to hitch up a smile. The trick is to find ways of tempting that hope out into the open again and wearing it proudly. Against all odds, hope will see you through.

Planning for the Future

When all feels lost, planning for the future seems completely pointless. If you are struggling to see further than the next day, why would you give a thought to what could happen next week? Well, simply put, you don’t really know what is going to happen in the future. Doctors may guess at how long you have, but there are always stories of people who live so much longer than anyone ever expected.

Planning for the future doesn’t have to mean long-term planning, it just means setting yourself a goal and going for it. When people are diagnosed with terminal conditions, one of the best things they can do is plan ahead to go and see something they have always dreamed of or try something they might never have done before.

Though you might think that planning a trip is futile, getting on with making reservations and booking hotels is a great form of distraction and will help you to imagine a better place. Think of this as your one chance to do something you have always wanted and take it.

If you are struggling to make your wish come true or you need help sorting things out, your friends and family will be a great help. You can also ask for support from wish fulfillment charities who understand the importance of having things to look forward to and enhancing your life with the terminal illness. This sort of charity might be more well known for helping children, but there are plenty of adult-orientated charities who can help too.

You may also wish to use this time to plan for a future after you. Though it isn’t nice to think about what will happen to your belongings and finances, you can make a difference with what you leave by stipulating your wishes in a will. You should also think about your finances and how you would like to be treated, whether you choose to go into a care home or would prefer home care. This is very personal and your choice may change over time, but thinking about it now may help to soften the blow later on.

Being A Part of Something Bigger

Just as planning for the future can be hard when it is so uncertain, it can be tough to stay open to suggestions when you feel that there is nothing left to be tried. Closing yourself up is a natural response to a threat and is a very normal way to deal with bad news, but if you can persuade yourself to be a bit more open-minded, you might find that you are happier and more hopeful as a result. Being a part of something bigger than yourself is a good way to see that there is hope in the world and you can make it happen.

Though there are many ‘treatments’ available for extortionate amounts of money that will do you no good at all, you might wish to try other experimental treatments being developed by scientists, doctors, and researchers. Of course, there is never a guarantee that these treatments will work, but if you are open to the possibility, you could help assist the research and pave the way for better treatments.

There are always new studies taking place such as new drug therapies and even stem cell research (see Poseida for more) so do ask your doctor if you can be enrolled in this kind of study. Do listen carefully to the side effects that may occur and what they are trying to prove. If you go into the study fully informed, you will be able to make decisions as you go and choose to stop if you so wish.

This is a different kind of hope to cling to. Not the hope that you will be cured, but the hope that you can use your life to help find a cure for others who may follow in your footsteps. It is a brave and honorable move to make, but to be cautious. This action is not for everyone and if you don’t want to do a study, you should not feel pressured.

Being a part of a study like these is a way to find hope in a selfless way. Though you may not be cured, knowing that you may have played a key role in finding a new method of treatment for the future is a great reassurance that you have given something back after a happy life, filled with opportunity.

Another nice option is to start fundraising for researchers looking into your condition. This is an ideal way of giving back to the community as well as paying forwards without the stress of going through the research program yourself. There are a lot of fundraising ideas you can use to build a profile and giving your face to the charity is a good way to get people to empathize and potentially give more or help more.  Even if you just raise awareness, you can be a part of something much bigger and help generations to come. 

Saying Yes to Things That Make You Happy

Finally, a small word of advice that may not have occurred to you: you are allowed to be happy and to do the things that make you happy.

Discovering that you have a terminal illness is a shock. There is almost nothing that can be accurately compared to that conversation with the doctor and knowing that your time is coming. Everyone reacts differently but common responses include speechlessness or silence, denial, and anger. You may also become depressed or find yourself crying a lot of the time. Again, this is completely normal.

While all of these responses are entirely reasonable given the situation, as you move towards acceptance, you should also try to find ways to giving yourself an excellent quality of life for these last few weeks or months. Rather than curling up and waiting for your time to come, do yourself and others around you a favor and say ‘yes’ to the things that make you happy.

Sometimes life feels like a battle and you have to keep getting up over and again to face the same thing. To be honest, it’s difficult to counter that sensation other than to be defiant and determined to keep going, finding hope in every moment that there is a joy to be had and continuing onwards. It takes strength and on some days, it will be easier than others. The more your friends and family can keep you going, the more you can do for yourself too.

It might sound counterintuitive, but accepting what cannot be changed and finding peace with what has happened is one of the best ways to work towards more positive thinking. Do what you can to help the situation – painkillers, a wig to hide hair loss or looser clothes to make you more comfortable – and then accept what remains. It takes time to accept but once you are there you will find yourself saying yes to more activities you love.

It might be a small thing like watching a favorite movie or it could be making plans for the future as above. Whatever it is, don’t deny yourself the opportunity to find some joy and hope, even at this painful time. Talk to your family and friends, make jokes and laugh, feel grateful for everything you have had and what is still yet to come.

However elusive it may seem, there is always some hope to be found. It is in the smile of your friends when they see you and in the contribution, you make to society. It is in the experimental therapy and in the research that continually pushes boundaries. It is implementing some of these 151 fundraising ideas and resources, and the awareness you bring to your neighborhood.

Hope is everywhere and when you are ready, you will begin to see it too.

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Karen is a blogger, future NY Times bestselling author, and fur-momma.

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