Ask Asad: How do I tell my father that he only has six months left to live?

When one is hit with the realisation that they have limited time left to live, they make drastic changes in life

Asad Shafi February 13, 2018

Dear Asad,

I am a 28-year-old guy working and living in a different city away from my family. I am the eldest son and all my siblings are below the age of 20.

My father recently fell very ill. I brought him to my city and took him to a doctor who prescribed many tests. When I went to collect the results I got the shock of my life. My father has been diagnosed with liver cancer and the doctors have given him just a few months (six to eight months max) before he succumbs to cancer.

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I am the only one who knows about his condition. Even he doesn’t know about it and neither do any other members of my family. If I tell them about my father’s condition, all hell will break loose at home and everyone will panic and go into depression. Keeping this in mind, I haven’t had the courage to share this tragic news with anyone. But I have begun to experience anxiety attacks knowing my father doesn’t have much time left and that I am the only one who knows about it.

My mind has gone completely blank. I can’t think and I don’t know what to do. Please advise!

Father Suffering from Cancer


Dear Father Suffering from Cancer,

I am extremely sorry to hear about your father’s cancer. May God have mercy on your father and do what is best for him in this condition.

In my humble opinion, you should immediately tell your father and the rest of your family about his cancer. This is something you can’t and shouldn’t be keeping to yourself. While I understand your motive for hesitating in sharing this news with your family, it is crucial that you still do so immediately. Everyone in your family, especially your father, has the right to know what you have been told by the doctors.

I know it must be hard for you to tell your family about your father’s condition and that they will also take it very hardly but please understand that there is no other option. Neither is there an easier way of doing it. You will have to be direct in your approach and must provide them with all the details, no matter what their reaction might be.

As you already are well aware, this news will completely change the way you and your family function as a normal. Everything will be turned upside down. Lives of all family members will go through great upheaval. But this is something that is natural and expected. Therefore, while your fear that everyone in your family will become depressed is a correct one, there is no other way out.

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I know it is only God who knows how much time your father has got left in this world and the doctors can’t be always right or exact in their estimations. But keeping in mind the time frame the doctors have given for your father, and if it turns out to be right, then your father has only got a few months left to live. He should be aware of this fact.

The reason he should have this knowledge is to decide how he wants to spend the limited time that he has. More often than not, when one is hit with the hard realisation that they have got limited time left in this world, they usually make drastic changes in their life. Similarly, your father might alter completely the way he spends his time and energy. For example, he might want to go for a religious pilgrimage or might want to spend more time with his family or might want to take care of his financial or legal affairs, etc. You have no right, not even as a son, to take away his choice of living his last days the way he wants.

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Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be devastating. Learning that one has cancer is a very emotional experience. Nearly everybody diagnosed with it feels shock, anger, fear and disbelief. The longer you delay in informing your father, the less time he will have in processing these emotions.

As the diagnosis is terminal or end-stage cancer, the process of coping will also be a process of saying goodbye. This process of goodbye will be both ways, from your father to your family and from your family to your father. It will of course be heart-wrenching and devastating but there is no other alternative.

Your anxiety attacks are completely natural. This is a life-changing news, not just for your father but for everyone in the family especially you as you were the first one, and so far the only one, to know about it. You are going through an extremely traumatic experience, and that too alone, and your body is reacting to it. Once again I will very strongly request you to please share this news with your family and not just keep it to yourself. Otherwise your anxiety attacks will just become more severe.

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Hearing the news of a cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and frightening. Although everyone handles it in different ways, holding it in typically makes things worse. Not only will getting your feelings out in the open likely make you feel better, but you can find out how everyone else is feeling, which gets the family on the same page.

Right now it might not seem as a blessing but all of you – your father and family – have the chance and the time to say goodbyes to each other. This is something that is not afforded to everyone, especially those who pass away in accidents, terror attacks, etc. Although this is a time of extremely heightened emotions, be grateful for the time you have left together and spend it wisely.

May God give you and your family the strength and patience in this tough time of your life to deal with this tragedy. Ameen!

Take care!



Asad is a counsellor, life coach, inspirational speaker and a personal-development expert. He advises on social, personal and emotional issues. You can send him your questions for this weekly column at with “Ask Asad” mentioned in the subject line and provide as many details as possible.


Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Express Tribune.