"Having a conversation about death, doesn't mean you are dying" - Dr Dan Monnery's blog

Posted 9th May 2023

Dying Matter Awareness Week is an opportunity for communities to discuss dying, death and grief in whatever way feels most appropriate for them.

Dr Dan Monnery, Consultant in Palliative Medicine here at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, works with our patients who are approaching the end of their life.

In this blog for Dying Matters Awareness Week, Dr Monnery talks about the vital role his team plays during this time for patients and their families and why discussing the issues surrounding an incurable diagnosis is important, as well as some upcoming event for patients to meet people who can support them.

“I lead the Enhanced Supportive Care Team at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and we work with our patients to manage the symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments, including when a patient is approaching the end of their life.

“We’re a specialist team of doctors and nurses who are highly trained and experienced in managing a patient’s symptoms and supporting them holistically – we want our patients to live as well and as normally as possible, despite their health and treatment.

“Our team ensures that people with cancer have access to holistic support earlier and in situations where they may not ordinarily have access to such specialist care. Earlier access means we can help people stay well for longer so it’s our aim to see as many people as possible from the time they’re diagnosed with incurable cancer. But it’s also part of our role to see people who can recover from cancer, have been cured or are in long term remission from cancer to keep them well and help them get back to living a normal life beyond cancer treatment.

“There have been huge advances in cancer treatment and medicines over the years. However, despite this, the fact remains that people still die of cancer and as a society, death is not something we’re good at talking about. That’s why Dying Matters Awareness Week is so important – it allow us to talk openly about our needs and our fears and find the help needed to deal with a life limiting illness. This can range from medical care, psychological support, counselling for family members and children through to practical things like sorting our finances and funeral arrangements.

“One of the practical things my team support with is called an Advanced Care Plan. This is a plan for your future care, ahead of time. It doesn’t even have to be written down, it can be as simple as telling someone what you want to happen to you, if you can no longer make those decisions for yourself. It might include what treatments you do and don’t want, who you’d like to advocate for you in your final days and where you’d like to be cared for. There’s no set content – it’s a plan that reflects you and the things you value.

“Importantly, making an Advanced Care plan and having a conversation about dying doesn’t mean you are dying. I already know my Advanced Care Plan will say that I don’t like my feet being under the covers of my bed! No one would necessarily know that if it hasn’t been discussed ahead of time.

“The Enhanced Supportive Care Team are hosting two events this Dying Matters Week. Our Charity Information Day on Thursday 11th May is aimed at all our patients and their families are carers, regardless of your circumstances. Come along and chat to local and national charities we work alongside to get help and advice on everything from financial support and respite through to counselling and therapies.

“Friday 12th May is an event tailored for those with an incurable cancer and their carers. It’s an opportunity for you to chat in confidence about all aspects of your care, including putting together an Advanced Care Plan on the day if you wish.

“Please don’t be afraid to come along to these events and talk to us. Having a conversation about dying does not mean you are dying. These sessions are meant to give you practical advice and help, should you want it.”

Events for Dying Matters Awareness Week will take place at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre – Liverpool on Thursday 11th and Friday 12th May from 10am.

If you are a patient at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, or have a loved one who is, and you are unable to attend the events but would like more information, please contact Clade Cadwallader, Macmillan CNS Palliative Nurse on claire.cadwallader@nhs.net