Final Symptoms of Terminal Lung Cancer and Dying

Updated on November 20, 2016
Austinstar profile image

Lela is a Certified Medical Laboratory Scientist (ASCP) with 38 years of experience in the medical industry and blood banking.

Death is an art

"Camille Monet sur son lit de mort," by Claude Monet
"Camille Monet sur son lit de mort," by Claude Monet | Source

Do People Know When They Are Dying?

Dying is an individual life event. Yes, it is part of life. When a friend or loved one begins experiencing the final symptoms of terminal lung cancer, there can be a lot of variation to how the process unfolds. Some people will feel great pain, others not so much. Some approach dying in the same way that they dealt with life, with gusto. Some have disabling fear. Some people die quickly, others linger. Loved ones want to help, but they need to know how best to recognize the dying process and its symptoms.

After working in the medical field for over 38 years, my coworkers and I have seen almost every conceivable type of death event.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the following list indicates what most of us here in the United States can expect to die from:

  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Accident
  • Stroke
  • Alzheimer's disease and old age
  • Diabetes
  • Influenza and Pneumonia
  • Kidney disease
  • Suicide

Unfortunately, death will eventually affect us all in one way or another. How we deal with it is what concerns us most.

If you have a loved one dying of lung cancer, you will observe many of these signs of dying. There are some distinct stages of the dying process that may help you deal with the grief that comes from seeing a close friend or family member slip into the quietness of death.

Mourning the death of a loved one

In Memoriam
In Memoriam | Source

The final symptoms of terminal lung cancer and death watch

The following events are predicted for almost any cancer victim. The symptoms follow a pattern that is common to death and dying and may occur in any type of death event. They may also occur in any order, and may skip through a predicted episode completely. These phases may last for many months, or they may be briefly expressed.

Common Symptoms

Lung cancer’s obvious symptom is shortness of breath. As the malignant cells invade the lung tissue and build masses, the lungs are increasingly unable to process the exchange of air. Sometimes the tumors obstruct the airways. Fluid builds up in the lungs. Cancer tumors are fragile and often bleed causing the person to cough up blood.

Weight loss is common to cancer victims. Medications and the disease itself destroy the appetite. The tumors can obstruct the esophagus and make swallowing difficult.

Related Symptoms

Cancer cells from the lungs travel to other parts of the body and tumors can grow in the brain, abdomen and bones. Pain can occur wherever these cells have attached.

If the brain is involved, symptoms can include neurological problems. Headaches, speech impairment and seizures. These and other symptoms can be caused by brain tumors.

Lung cancer patients can have mild to excruciating bone pain, or no pain at all.

Cancerous tumors in the abdomen may cause pain of the liver, stomach or other organs. Other abdominal pain may be due to the general effort of breathing as the diaphragm becomes weaker and weaker.

Active Dying Phase, or the Final Symptoms

As the patient nears the actual point of death, the symptoms change and become quite distinct. The skin becomes cool and bluish. Wet and clammy skin is evident as perspiration increases.

Appetite may actually increase for a short while which gives false hope of a rebound to the caretaker. Then the appetite and thirst completely disappear and the patient will refuse to eat or drink anything.

Breathing becomes irregular and the so-called “death rattle” is heard due to Increased secretions in the back of the throat.

The patient may become irritated and confused even to the point of seeing hallucinations. Some have stated that they see people from “the other side” that have passed before them.

The final symptom is a profound deep sleep. During this sleep, the dying person will simply stop breathing and their heart will stop beating. The end is generally peaceful and caretakers usually find comfort in being in the room with the body as they say the final goodbye.

Cemeteries are Restful Places

Cemetery Park
Cemetery Park | Source

After Your Loved One Dies

The purpose of this article is to help people understand the active dying process. It is very hard to watch someone you love go through the stages of death. This is the part where I've personally had experience. Although each case is unique, most cases do follow a predictable pattern.

Your situation will be different. It will be up-close and personal. It will be hard. But this, too, shall pass.

I have included a very good video just for you. It will help you on your journey through the grieving process. Since each of us is going to handle things differently, don't see it as the only way to handle grief. It is just a road map.

You may actually become so overwhelmed with grief that you may need professional grief counseling. Don't hesitate, get it! There is no shame in seeking help for your very real pain and anguish.

Seeing death on an almost daily basis makes many medical professionals hardened to this process. Find someone who is empathetic and can get you the help you need. There are support groups specifically designed to help us find our way through the pain of death. You can find support groups through your hospital, hospice clinic, place of worship, community center, etc.

We can't live forever, but we can help each other live through every stage of life.

For more information on death and dying, there are many books available through Amazon, or through your local bookstore or library. A very good one that I recommend is On Death and Dying, by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Ira Byock M.D.

The Grieving Process

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

  • Why would a doctor lower a chemotherapy dose?

    Chemotherapy is based on special regimens for each stage and type of cancer or illness. Please communicate with your doctor for your specific illness and course of treatment.

© 2010 Lela


Submit a Comment
  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    2 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    Hi Linda. I'm sorry to hear about your friend, but happy to hear you are a 5 year+ survivor of cancer. Every day we live on is an accomplishment of great magnitude. Congratulations. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate hearing from all. Here's to good health.

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 

    2 years ago from Minnesota

    I realize you wrote this a long time ago but the timing is right for me now. I will be 15 years cancer free this coming St. Patrick's Day. I was only 41 years old when I was diagnosed with stage 3A Lung cancer. I moved from stage 1 to 3 because they saw I had lymph node involvement in the trachea & bronchi. I had my middle lobe of R lung removed, went through very aggressive chemo and radiation. They told me I had a 20-25& chance of making 5 years but I proved them wrong. I moved in with my best friend who is my identical twin sister and her two kids. I had a purpose while I was going through the journey and am now here to talk about it. Tomorrow I will attend my friend and past co-workers funeral. She was diagnosed with the same lung cancer as I, but she didn't make it. I feel very grateful to be here and thank you for writing about this topic.

  • profile image


    2 years ago

    A very informative video -- it made a good point.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    2 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    Death is both a sad and emotional time of life. Your brother's story sounds very brave. Sorry to hear of your loss.

  • profile image


    2 years ago

    My younger brother died of lung cancer with (secondary bone cancer). His journey seemed short, as for years he suffered and never let on. He did the coughing up blood, and the bone cancer ate away his pelvic bone...he was about 80 lbs when he died. I was on my way, to be by his side, but a 15 minute lay-over, at the airport prevented me from being at his side for his last breath...he died 15 minutes before I got to his house. His wife said, he struggled to wait for me..we were very close. The night before, he saw something up in the corner of the ceiling...he opened his arms wide, as if to embrace what he saw. He was only 4 years old when our mother died (I was 8 years old)..he always said he wished he could have memories of her. I am certain, he saw her and our father waiting for him. He went silent at the end of his journey, but hearing is the last thing to go....I had hoped to say goodbye. The journey is just as it has been explained. He had a taste for Chinese food, and ate a little...then nothing more. He saw someone waiting for him...and reached out to them. He fell silent but everyone said their goodbyes...then, the death rattle and one deep breath before a look of total peace fell over him. I have also heard that some thrash and move around, usually those that fight death or have unfinished business. I do not believe it helps to fight it...I want to take my journey just as my brother. He was such a loving, gentle soul and he left this world as he lived his life. I was there when he came into the world, but I missed being there when he left...I know he will be waiting for me on the other side.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    4 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    You have a great criend who will share in this time of your life. I hear that hospice is the most comfortable way to go and I will choose it for myself. It's something we all have to do. There are no wrong choices. Be peaceful and enjoy your remaining time.

  • profile image


    4 years ago

    An easy to read and very comforting article. I'm currently 30 and have very advanced fibro sarcoma in both my lungs. I was put on hospice not long ago and the doctors have no idea how long I will last. It is very comforting and I'm on the verge of tears knowing that my death with be peaceful and in my sleep. My girlfriend moved in to help take care of me and I already hate that she has to be here for this. It is nice to know her experience with be minimally traumatic too.

  • simallenjo profile image

    Sim Allen 

    7 years ago from US

    Its very dangerous cancer, I was not knowing about it in detail, just read through your article, thanks for information...and Sorry to hear about all who lost their family member's.

  • oldersister profile image


    8 years ago

    I have lost my Dad to lung cancer. He was only 52 when he passed. I also lost my mom to pancreatic cancer two years ago. Cancer is a tough battle, It is hard on the patient and hard on the caregivers.

  • frogyfish profile image


    8 years ago from Central United States of America

    Sadly, most of my lung cancer experience has been that of more pain and struggle at the end. It is a singular dramatic experience each time...

    Thank you for your compassionate information here.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    Sorry to hear about your father. I lost my dad to heart and lung failure after his lungs were destroyed by chemicals and smoking. He was proud of the life he had, though and made peace with everyone before he died.

    I hope your dad finds peace too.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    My dad has lung cancer he's on his

    final days he just turn 51 and he's been suffering a lot of pain we been in and out of the hospital.Right now he has hospice but it seems that he's giving up I don't want him to die but I don't want him to suffer I wish he had a second chance

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    Coping with death is difficult. Just like dying is different for different people, so is grieving. So being there for your mother is the best thing you can do. Talking with a hospice nurse will also be beneficial.

    I'm sorry to hear about your uncle. Take care.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    This is a really helpful and relevant article. My uncle is currently in his final stage of cancer and I'm reading up on this so I can attempt to comfort my mother, who is struggling to cope through this process.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    I agree about the medical community. Having been a part of it for over 30 years, I know for a fact that few of the "practicioners" really have a clue about what they are doing.

  • Kelley Eidem profile image

    Kelley Eidem 

    8 years ago from Panama City, FL

    The hallucinations and deep sleep sound like the effects of narcotics rather than the cancer. We just don't know if the patient is also hallucinating with terrorizing dreams once they have been narcotized.

    The loss of appetite might be from the cancer itself or from narcotizing the patient.

    There are much better options although they have been suppressed and lied about in the medical community.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    Very sad indeed. I'm sorry to hear about your friend. It's a shame we have to die at all. I hope your friend finds a way to cope. Sweden has the best "right to die" policy of any country. The U.S. prosecutes those like Dr. Kevorkian, but there are doctors who are sympathetic and will provide assisted death meds. Families who are unable to accept the death of a loved one are the ones that cause them to hide their sympathies. Ask for "comfort meds" only and they will usually provide them.

  • lightning john profile image

    lightning john 

    9 years ago from Florida

    I myself would not want to linger on and on with a lot of pain. I have one friend now that is at the end road with cancer. There is no more treatments that will do any good. It is very sad. Lj

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    I'm not sure if you're asking how to avoid or cure cancer, or how to die using natural products.

    There is no cure for cancer, natural or otherwise. As we age, cancerous cells form because they lose their ability to "get it right". The DNA, RNA etc. are all damaged by age and overuse. Our bodies are completely replaced with new cells every so often and as long as the "message" is good, everything is all right.

    As to euthanasia, there are countries that will supply that service for a fee. It's an individual decision.

    Hope this helps.

  • lightning john profile image

    lightning john 

    9 years ago from Florida

    Hi AustinStar, In the book Healing And The Mind, they interview people with cancer and places that actually help them in their exit out. Do you think that these so called natural products work. I would be trying anything and everything.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    You may request that comfort meds be given to your mom. It may be exactly what she needs and wants. None of us want to see or do the dying part of life, but we cannot escape it. I'm sad to hear that your mom is not doing well. My condolences go out to all who have to go through this.

    Focus on the good parts of life. I hope there were many.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    HI. I really didn't want to read this, but i was drawn to know the truth. Mom is not doing well, she is in advanced stages of her lung cancer. Its a hard time for all. Your article was concise and came across to me as very compassionate also easy reading for even those who are currently hurting. Very tasteful and to the point. Thanks, I for one needed this simplified version without all the frills. Sad time for all. Please pray for moms comfort.

  • BlackSea profile image


    9 years ago

    Absolutely Fantastic hub, very well written article, it will give good feedback to the googlers out there......SB

  • oceansnsunsets profile image


    9 years ago from The Midwest, USA

    This was hard to read but is likely going to be very helpful to some people out there. Its encouraging for people to keep taking care of themselves too, I am sure.

  • cyberbiztoday profile image


    9 years ago from California

    Nice article..Check my article as well on Cancer :


  • James A Watkins profile image

    James A Watkins 

    9 years ago from Chicago

    It's a sad world. I have had an aunt and one of my uncles die of lung cancer in the past year. Thanks for this valuable information.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

    Hi Katie and Audrey, I hope that some good will come of this hub. My neighbor just had a lobectomy for cancer in her lung and she hasn't snapped to the fact yet that she will probably die from it. She's still smoking a week after the lobectomy. I can't get her to even consider quitting.

    I watch people die at the hospital all the time and though it happens to all, it's sad to see some of the pain it causes. It doesn't have to be that way.

    You girls are great nieces, I can tell!

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    10 years ago from Washington

    Very concise indeed - my uncle died of lung cancer after he had had part of his lung removed. Sad thing - my sister-in-law also got it and she had never smoked or been exposed to smoke so you just never know. Thanks for the good information, Lela!

  • katiem2 profile image

    Katie McMurray 

    10 years ago from Westerville

    What a clear and easy read, while I do feel the pain and loss of a loved one, my uncle is currently living with one lung and experiencing what you speak of it is helpful to know. I especially like the part about going to sleep, sometimes you can hear him struggle to breath and other times you don't hear him at all, it's then I wonder, he's still here. Great read and thank you! Peace be with all!


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