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Secretly Dying

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A character knows Their Days Are Numbered and tries to keep it under wraps. If they're diagnosed with The Virus, a Soap Opera Disease, or an Incurable Cough of Death, Herr Doktor may be begged to keep silent about it. If they're harboring a Secret Stab Wound, they may wear extra shirts and haphazard bandages to avoid a Mortal Wound Reveal.

Why? Perhaps they don't want their friends handling them with kid gloves or passing the Despair Event Horizon, or they want to spend their last days seeing their sweetheart smiling rather than grief-stricken. They may simply want to Face Death with Dignity. Alternatively, they might want to keep their enemies from getting a morale boost out of it. This can also be a selfish act if their condition represents a danger to others, such as with The Plague or a Zombie Infectee.

Sometimes, though, even the character themself don't realize this fact, leaving only the audience and a select few to know the truth of the matter. Whether said character is told later on, or ends up suddenly dropping dead without realizing depends.

This may lead to Dying Alone if taken to its logical extreme. It also can invoke Fridge Logic of the Stupid Sacrifice variety if medical treatment could have saved or at least prolonged the victim's life. Naturally, this is revealed to another character with You See, I'm Dying.

This is a Death Trope, and usually a major Plot Twist. The examples section is a minefield of unmarked spoilers.

For the Lighter and Softer temporary variant, see Feigning Healthiness. Contrast with Mistaken for Dying, in which the subject is much healthier than people think.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


    open/close all folders 

  • The titular protagonist of Leafie, a Hen into the Wild is slowly dying for much of the latter half of the film. She lives in a marsh with her adopted duckling son despite being a chicken. The environment is not suitable for a domesticated hen. By autumn, Leafie's feathers are messy, she's overly skinny, and she is weak. She keeps it from her son nevertheless. Leafie doesn't die of natural causes. She lets herself be eaten by the one-eyed weasel so she can produce milk to feed her newborn kits.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Magic Knight Rayearth, Eagle Vision has an Incurable Cough of Death complete with blood. He tries to hide it from all his loved ones, which angers Hikaru, who has had enough of people wanting to bear their burden on their own.
  • In Bokurano, all the kids piloting Zearth would qualify. They don't suffer from any kind of medical condition, but once they pilot Zearth, they die. They just keep this a secret from everyone they know, to avoid hurting their feelings, but they secretly know that once it's their turn to pilot Zearth, they only have very little time left to live. In the manga, Kana Ushiro manages to keep her status as a pilot secret until her turn comes up late in the story.
  • Macross:
  • In dear, Subaru's Evil Hand is painfully consuming him. He keeps quiet about it so Komomo won't worry.
  • In the anime of Trigun, when Wolfwood is mortally wounded in his battle with Chapel, he speaks briefly to Vash, then heads to an abandoned church to confess his sins. Vash is too busy angsting about his own duel with Caine the Longshot (who ended it via suicide) to notice the trail of blood droplets in his wake. Wolfwood dies as he's praying. In the manga, things are played differently. The kids of Wolfwood's Orphanage of Love have been sent away to safety, and both he and Vash watch them leave. Then they share One Last Smoke... and Wolfwood dies as they're talking to each other.
  • Darker than Black:
    • Season 1 Huang hides a Secret Stab Wound to sacrifice themself as a distraction. Also in DTB, November 11 believes Amber's precognition that he's not long for this world, but keeps it to himself.
    • Amber spans a Batman Gambit to detonate the Gate using judicious use of her time manipulation power. The price she pays for using her power is Cast from Lifespan in reverse, causing her to age backwards. She worked it all out so that she had exactly enough lifespan left to see her plan to fruition, and unmakes herself the last time she uses her power.
  • In DARLING in the FRANXX Zero Two's partners all die before riding with her a fourth time. It looks like Hiro might be an exception, but he begins suffering from a high yellow blood cell count before recovering and beginning to turn into a klaxosaur hybrid like her.
  • Cloud Strife, in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, hides the fact that he is infected with terminal geostigma from his family and friends.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Rau le Creuset is very slowly dying because his cells are a good 30 years older than they should be. There are a number of scenes that show him self-medicating to deal with the pain, but the cause is not explained until The Big Damn Reveal, as his condition is the root of his misanthropy and thus his desire to wipe out humanity with him in retaliation.
  • Kaiser in Season 3 of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX. He wants one last amazing duel before his heart condition takes him down, and he shrugs off concern and support all season when anyone notices the pain he's in.
  • One Piece:
    • Gol D. Roger, the Pirate King, is eventually revealed to have been deathly ill at the time of his "capture" by the World Government, and at the time of his execution had very little life left in him, anyway.
    • Hiruluk keeps his fatal illness secret from Chopper. After getting Shoo the Dog, though, Chopper learns the truth by listening to Hiruluk and Kureha.
  • Naruto
    • Itachi had a fatal illness that he barely controlled via medication, and likely would have won his final battle if he hadn't succumbed to it mid-fight. Later, we find out Itachi wasn't aiming to kill Sasuke anyway.
    • Kimimaro attempted this trope, refusing to reveal his growing illness for fear that he would lose value in Orochimaru's eyes. Kabuto and Orochimaru saw through this and he ended up bedridden before the invasion of Konoha. During his fight against Rock Lee and Gaara in the Sasuke Retrieval Arc, he ends up succumbing to his illness right as he is about to kill them.
  • Fairy Tail: Loke, being a celestial spirit trapped in the human world, could not survive for an extended period, and the fact that he made it three years before he started dying just makes it that much more impressive. When he eventually reveals to Lucy that he's dying, she flips out and summons the Spirit King to revise Loke's sentence and save his life.
  • In Shigofumi there was the story of an older man watching over a little girl named Fumika (the same as the protagonist). The older man treated the girl nicely but did not tell her that he was dying from a condition. He ultimately dies by pushing Fumika out of the way of a bus, though he gets hit and dies.
  • Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden:
    • This is the case for Takiko. For the first half of the series, she's repeatedly shown to be coughing or suffering from colds and it's treated as nothing too bad. Then she finds out that she caught tuberculosis from her recently deceased mother and needs to take medicine. Takiko takes her medicine but keeps the fact that it's tuberculosis a secret from her companions and lover.
    • In a more meta sense, all the priestesses of the Four Gods can count as this, since part of their duty of being the Priestess is to summon the God, become one with them, and get consumed by them for every wish they get fulfilled. Genbu Priestess Takiko gets killed via murder-suicide by her father in the real world after only two wishes due to the excess pain the consumption causes her, Seiryu Priestess Yui's whole body began to turn scaley and was absorbed into Seiryu and Suzaku and Byakko Priestesses Miaka and Suzuno, respectively, managed to have strong enough wills to not be consumed.
  • Kaori from Your Lie in April had suffered from a disease her entire life and it was getting worse with age. At age fourteen she could tell she didn't have much time left anymore. So she aimed to be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the boy who inspired her to become a musician. She dies a little under a year after meeting Kousei due to complications in a surgery meant to make her live longer. While at the hospital she tried to downplay her illness as stress-related, even to the point where she didn't want her friends to see her using an IV, but as the anime goes on it becomes obvious it's more serious than she's letting on.
  • Giftia in Plastic Memories are androids who only have around nine years to live. The purpose of SIA is to retrieve dying Giftia before their expiration date. When Giftia die, their bodies are reused however they have no memories of their past lives and have completely different names. Isla only has 2000 hours to live at the start of the series. This is kept a secret from her love interest and eventual boyfriend until near the end.
  • Kishou Arima from Tokyo Ghoul is eventually revealed to be dying, as a result of being Blessed with Suck. The same hybrid nature that granted him superhuman physical abilities caused him to age at an accelerated rate. While externally he looked young, internally he was already dying from old age and suffering from Glaucoma. Rather than wait to simply break down further, he chooses to commit suicide.
  • Downplayed in My Hero Academia. The first few chapters/episodes reveal that All-Might suffered severe injuries a few years back which, combined with the toll that One For All takes on the body, leaves him coughing up blood and straining to keep his hero form for more than a few hours. Thankfully, One For All can be transferred to another person, and the series begins with him picking the protagonist, Izuku/Deku Midoriya, as his successor so that he can safely retire.
  • Yuki Yuna is a Hero: In the second season, Yuna's body is cursed and it's expected that she won't last the end of spring. Yuna's friends notice she's becoming more withdrawn and her happiness isn't authentic, but she's unable to tell them what's wrong (as in, she literally can't or else the curse'll spread). However, Yuna eventually recovers and the show ends on an optimistic note.
  • Souji for a large portion of Peacemaker Kurogane, as like his historical counterpart, he has tuberculosis. However, it's not made apparent for quite a while and, to start with, the only one who seems to know he's even sick is Hijikata.
  • In Assassination Classroom, ten members of the class are infected with a deadly virus to try to force the others into surrendering Koro-sensei. Terasaka accompanies the rest of the class on the mission to get the antidote but hides the fact that he's showing symptoms himself, knowing that Karasuma would call off the operation if he knew.
  • YuYu Hakusho: Shortly after being curb-stomped by Yusuke in his Mazoku-based form, Sensui (the Big Bad of the Chapter Black Story Arc) is revealed by Itsuki to have battled against an incurable illness, and the reason he wanted to open the gateway to the Makai was to find and fight against a very strong Worthy Opponent capable of killing him (namely a Class S entity) before his illness did.note (SPOILERS)  The villain's wish is technically fulfilled as he dies post-battle, and Itsuki preserves his body so his soul doesn't face punishment in the Spirit Realm, but the means of the conflict's end is why Yusuke remains furious until after the end of the season.
  • Gauma of SSSS.DYNɅZENON came Back from the Dead along with the other Kaiju Eugenicists, but as he no longer had a connection to the Kaiju, he was slowly dying. This wasn't revealed until the penultimate episode, but it was foreshadowed by the purple splotch on his stomach slowly growing larger over the course of the anime.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, Ironfist is dying from taking a cerebro-seeking bullet to the head in an "accident", and having it slowly working its way closer and closer to its target and unable to be stopped. He hides it because he's assigned to what is a dream mission for him and doesn't want to be ruled unfit to serve it. Prowl apparently knew all along and allowed Ironfist to go on the mission because fulfilling it would require someone to die. Someone else made the sacrifice instead, and Ironfist was eventually killed by the bullet after the mission.
  • All-Star Superman begins with Superman discovering that he's dying. The comic ends with him telling the world in the form of a Clark Kent article.
  • In the "Whitewater" arc of Birds of Prey, General Kerimov's plot to resurrect Ice came about because he discovered that he was dying of pancreatic cancer and wanted to die having done something that he could be proud of. He figured that resurrecting a beloved superheroine and offering her up to his country would help make up for decades of morally questionable behavior.
  • In her last arc in The Authority, Jenny Sparks knows that she's going to die (she's the spirit of the 20th century, after all, and the story opens on December 30th, 1999), but is determined to keep her teammates from finding out before they've finished dealing with God.
  • The Ultimates: Tony Stark has an inoperable brain tumor, the size of a golf ball. That's why he's being Iron Man.
  • DIE: Chuck casually reveals that he's terminally ill at the end of Issue #10, with #11 expanding on this and explaining that he was diagnosed a few months before the party returned to Die.
  • Wonder Woman: Black and Gold: When Cathy reunites with Diana she's using magic to hide that she's dying and to give herself a little more time. Diana only learns of this when she confronts her old friend about the strange coincidences that are side effects of the magic.

    Fan Works 
  • Played With in Raindrops:
    • This is implied to have been the case with Ryuuko when she went to live with her sister, as told by Satsuki in flashbacks. Satsuki also noted that Ryuuko never told if anything was wrong and neither would she, however, at the same time, it's never made too clear if Ryuuko really did grasp the severity of her illness, thus which is why she went to live with her sister or if she didn't want to disclose the fact due to denial and her stubborn nature but her sister did note that she had a feeling something wasn't right and couldn't seem to figure out what.
    • In the sequel, Sunshine [1], we initially have this with Satsuki, who didn't reveal to her friends that she was ill with leukemia until she was nearing the terminal stages. Nonon states that, while she laments that Satsuki waited until it was almost too late to tell them, she does respect her choices, nevertheless.
    • In Paper Cranes by the same author, Satsuki is sick but Ryuuko is quite aware that she's hiding something and doesn't know what, regardless, knows that Satsuki seemed to be in denial about dying. In the end, we (and Ryuuko) find out why Satsuki kept the extent and diagnosis of her illness a secret, the reason being that she was dying of heart failure and the doctors offered to place her on a list to receive a heart transplant, even if there were no donors available, to which she declined, knowing she'd die before a donor is found and not wanting Ryuuko to kill herself, so the latter's heart could be used in a transplant.
  • In the last few chapters of Fallout: Equestria, Littlepip learns that she's dying from a combination of radiation, Pink Cloud, and corrupted broadcaster exposure, and probably has less than six months to live. She keeps it a secret from her friends and launches into her final campaign to destroy the Enclave.
  • In Requiem for a Loud, Lincoln tries to keep his 5 younger sisters from finding out that he only has 2 weeks left to live, considering that the news is already driving his older sisters into a deep depression and he hates to see them like this. He fails with Lisa, who easily figures it out on her own, and is only half-successful with Lucy, who has her suspicions despite Lincoln claiming to be fine. He has more luck with Lola, Lana, and Lily until chapter 18; by that point, all of the sisters (sans Lily due to her being a baby) have learned the truth.
  • Mind Brigade: Jill comes to Flower Bud Village to become a farmer, even ignoring the fact she has a potentially deadly heart condition. Less than two seasons after arriving she's hospitalized and in need of a heart transplant.
  • Mean Time to Breakdown: Iwanako remembers that in fifth grade she bullied a girl for wearing a hat in class when it was against the rules. It turns out that the girl was going through chemotherapy for cancer and she died later that year.
  • This is a subplot in the first installment of Skyhold Academy Yearbook, although it's not revealed until roughly halfway through the story. The real reason that Marian Hawke has taken a sabbatical from teaching at the eponymous school is that her sister Bethany has the potentially fatal North Llomerryn virus, and needs extensive medical treatment to help her have a chance of surviving. Of the main cast, only Varric knows the full truth, although it's implied that Leliana is at least somewhat in the loop (being technically Hawke's boss).
  • His Lie in April: Word of God states that Kousei's ailment was the very deadly brain disorder known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; as a result of this, Kousei mental capabilities diminish to the point where he can no longer speak, see, or remember his name. This is explicitly stated in the Director's Cut of the story. Kousei hides his real intentions to his friends as things worsen for him, keeping them to himself.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • This kickstarts the plot of Advise & Consent. The President is dying and, since he has no faith in his Vice President to lead, he nominates a headstrong ex-communist to be Secretary of State to carry out his foreign policy once he dies. The only people who know he's dying are the Senate Majority Leader, who is a close friend, and the Vice President, who figures it out on his own.
  • Batman & Robin: Alfred is secretly dying from MacGregor's Syndrome, the same disease that Nora Fries has. Despite his attempts to hide it, Bruce and Barbara are able to figure it out, though Robin has to be told.
  • No one at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is aware that Graham is dying from a pre-existing heart condition until after he dies.
  • Ulric in Black Death has the bubonic plague. He weaponizes it.
  • Breaking the Code (1996). Alan Turing is called before Bletchley Park manager Dilly Knox because his overt homosexuality is upsetting his co-workers. Knox tries to convince Turing that discretion is not only appropriate but kinder to his friends.
    Knox: Supposing I said that I'm mortally ill and that I've only a year or so to live. Supposing I'd broken down and wept. Supposing I'd opened my heart to you, and said that I have no wish to die; that I am frightened and in despair. (laughs) Well, I can't believe that you'd welcome such a disclosure, finding it distressing, and embarrassing — somewhat inconsiderate. And so, having regard for your feelings as well as my own, it would seem to be both correct and appropriate to... moderate my response.
    Turing: (quietly) Are you dying? (Knox ignores the questionnote )
  • One of the most famous movie examples is in El Cid when the eponymous hero tells those around him to keep the fact that he is dying a secret so as to avoid demoralizing the Spanish troops and boosting the morale of the besieging Moors. This ends with the famous scene when the now-deceased Cid, strapped to his horse, "leads" his army out of the city gates to victory.
  • Clara: It turns out that Clara has an autoimmune disease from which she's dying. We see her taking medication early in the film, but she's later hospitalized and dies there. She kept this from Isaac, who didn't realize it until a friend pointed this out.
  • The protagonist Jim in Date with an Angel is taking fistfuls of aspirin all through the movie. He's dying of an undiagnosed brain tumor. In the director's commentary, he says that this actually happened to a friend of his.
  • In The Giant Behemoth, even before it’s killed by the military, the Paleosaurus (a large, sauropod-like aquatic dinosaur) turns out to be terminally ill with radiation sickness.
  • In Iron Man, Tony Stark figures out pretty quickly that the palladium-based Arc Reactor in his chest, which keeps him alive, is at the same time slowly poisoning him. By Iron Man 2 his situation is desperate, and he spends the first half of the film preparing for his death by handing control of his company to Pepper, then spending his birthday in a public, alcohol-fueled breakdown. It even turns out the suit James Rhodes managed to "steal" from him had been pre-programmed by Stark to allow Rhodes to pilot it.
  • In Kamen Rider: The First, it is revealed that most Shocker Inhumanoids require regular blood transfusions to stay alive. While Takeshi Hongo is an exception to the rule, Hayato Ichimonji is this trope as of Kamen Rider: The Next, and the Director's Cut shows his death at the very end.
  • Liz In September: Liz it turns out contracted cancer again, after having beat it once before. At first only Dolores knows, with the others only learning it much later. Although she's given treatment options, Liz doesn't want to endure them, with little chance anyway.
  • Inverted in Love Story: when the doctor finds out that the protagonist's wife is dying from cancer, he tells him, but not her. The protagonist does his best to keep it from her, but eventually she learns about it anyway.
  • Madea's niece Shirley in Madea's Big Happy Family is diagnosed with terminal cancer at the start of the film and spends the entirety of it trying to set up a dinner to announce it to the rest of her Big, Screwed-Up Family, but because of her children's baggage and inability to get along, they never manage to get together in time until she's already on her deathbed. And to top it all off, one of her daughters Never Got to Say Goodbye.
  • Satine in Moulin Rouge! is dying of tuberculosis. For the maximum amount of gut-wrenching Dramatic Irony, almost everyone knows it before she does (including the audience since the story is a flashback told a year after her death). When she does find out, she keeps it a secret in an effort to spare her beloved's life.
  • Inverted in Nothing Sacred, in which Hazel Flagg is secretly not dying. It turns out her diagnosis of radium poisoning was a mistake by an incompetent quack, but she isn't going to let the fact that she's perfectly healthy cost her a free vacation to New York.
  • At the end of Once Upon a Time in the West, Cheyenne reveals that he's bleeding out from a gunshot. He asks Harmonica to get him out of sight of the new town before he keels over.
  • Pacific Rim: Marshal Stacker Pentecost is dying from radiation poisoning due to Mark 1 Jaegers not having proper internal shielding to protect the pilots from the nuclear reactors. Thus, he was slowly poisoned every time he went into combat. He keeps this a secret and secretly takes medicine to control his symptoms to keep the morale of his men.
  • In Shaun of the Dead, Shaun's mum doesn't let anyone see her zombie bite to avoid worrying anyone. This leads to the movie's biggest Tear Jerker when Shaun has to kill her when she turns.
  • War for the Planet of the Apes: During the last act of the film, Caesar is mortally wounded from a crossbow while saving his people from the humans. He staves off dying through sheer unadulterated determination to see his people safe for many days, only passing away when they finally reach a safe place to call home.
  • With a Kiss I Die: Farryn is revealed to secretly have terminal cancer.

  • Fox Demon Cultivation Manual: Rong Bai is slowly dying from his suicide attempt. Song Ci has to go back in time to save him.
  • And Then There Were None: The killer has a cancer diagnosis that isn't revealed until the epilogue, which explains why there is no one left alive on the island when authorities from the mainland arrive — the killer didn't want to suffer through a slow painful death on top of having a sadistic streak and a strong sense of justice meaning all of the victims were held responsible for murders themselves but were never convicted for it.
  • Near the end of the Harry Potter series, Harry learns that Dumbledore had been hiding an unbreakable death curse from wearing a ring which was a horcrux and that he had actually asked Snape to Mercy Kill him as part of his Thanatos Gambit for Voldemort to never possess the Elder Wand and set up his downfall by having The Mole as a high-ranking Death Eater.
  • In The Curse of Chalion, Cazaril has a supernatural tumor in his gut haunted by the ghost of the villain he killed with magic. He tries desperately to keep it under wraps, both for political reasons and so the girls he's trying to protect won't worry about him.
  • In The Dogs of War, mercenary leader "Cat" Shannon has been diagnosed with cancer.
  • In The Dresden Files book Death Masks, Shiro exchanges himself to almost certain death for Harry. Harry learns via a letter that was arranged beforehand that his benefactor was already dying from cancer.
  • In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Blood Pact, the reader is led to believe that Ayatani Zweil is dying of cancer this way. He isn't: Dorden is.
  • In The Night In Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque, the protagonist's wife hides from him that she has terminal cancer and joins him on his run from the Nazis since she wants to live out her last days with him in happiness and not alone in a hospital.
  • In A Dance With Dragons, Jon Connington is dying from greyscale, and tries to keep it secret from his men so he can fulfill his dream of placing Aegon on the throne. Unfortunately, this individual has arrived in Westeros and is at risk of spreading the condition to the rest of the continent.
  • Subverted in Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse. Poor Zoe Nightshade knew she would be the heroine in the prophecy to "die by a parent's hand", but told no one because she needed to go on this quest and die for her beloved lady Artemis.
  • Subverted in The Serpent Sea. Flower's health fails over the course of the book, with her stubbornly shrugging off the others' concerns, until she dies at the end. The subversion: The only one it was a secret from was Moon. Everyone else knew it was coming because elderly Raksura's scales turn white when they're close to dying of old age; Moon, having grown up without other Raksura around, didn't recognize the sign. Flower didn't say anything to him because she liked having someone around that didn't treat her like a dying person.
  • As of The Clockwork Prince, Jem is still hiding his Soap Opera Disease from everyone except Will and Tessa.
  • In The Man Who Carried Trouble, as part of a terrible week, Bill learns that his mother is dying of cancer, and the reason she is finally telling him is that she has only months left.
  • In The Southern Reach Trilogy, the final book reveals that the psychologist was dying of cancer when she joined the twelfth expedition into Area X, a fact which motivated her because she had nothing to lose and which she kept secret so she wouldn't be forbidden to go on medical grounds.
  • The plot of Deadline by Chris Crutcher revolves around this trope. When the eighteen-year-old protagonist finds out he has a terminal illness and only a year left to live, he decides to hide it from everyone so he can make the most of his senior year of high school.
  • In the 55th Madgie, what did you do? story, Broken Wings, we have a variation with Doki in that, while she was terminally ill and suffering renal failure, she wasn't entirely honest with exactly how much time she had left, as she said she had a few months to a year, whereas, in reality, she actually had a couple of weeks.
  • Chain Letter 1986: Neil, a participant in the hit-and-run and subsequent cover-up at the beginning of the book, is revealed to be dying from cancer that started in his legs and moved to his brain. It's part of the reason he became The Caretaker.
  • The Hearts We Sold: James has a brain tumor. His deal with the Daemon means that as long as his heart's out, it won't progress to the point where it can kill him. With his heart, he'd have three months to live on the outside.
  • In the Warrior Cats book Twilight, an unknown cat in the prologue is told by StarClan that they are going to die soon. This cat ends up being Cinderpelt, and she never tells anyone until her death. Turns out that being told in advance was a test, and since she kept it secret, she is rewarded by being reincarnated as her own niece, who was born the same instant Cinderpelt died.
  • In Dan Brown's Origin, the genius futurist Edmond Kirsch is revealed to have been fighting terminal cancer at the time of his murder at the hands of a religious fanatic, just as he was about to reveal his most important discovery to the world. The murder is then revealed to have actually been concocted by his custom-built AI, Winston, which was its solution to the task he gave it to maximize the number of people who would watch his broadcast live — the AI has figured out that if the original author were shot for his message, the interest for his discovery would spike across the world for a short while.
  • In Dan Abnett's Ravenor Returned, Kara Swole learns that a spacewalk she undertook in the previous book has given her cancer, and she only has a few months left to live. She asks the physician who discovered her condition to keep it secret so as not to worry her teammates. It later becomes a moot point when the possessed Carl Thonius uses his daemonic powers to cure her cancer.
  • The Shadow of Kyoshi establishes this for an Avaterverse character that completely changes how the fandom viewed them: Kuruk, an Avatar famous for dying young and being fairly reckless and not taking his job seriously, was in fact using his hedonism as a front from self medication as a result of secretly battling Dark Spirits and destroying his own life force.
  • In the latter half of Little Women, Beth eventually reveals herself to be this. After keeping it to herself for a long time, she finally confides in her big sister Jo that her near-fatal bout of scarlet fever has left her basically living on borrowed time, and she knows that borrowed time is running out. Sure enough, she's gone within months.
  • Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson decline to prosecute the killer in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" because of this trope; the killer is terminally ill and has less than a month left. They decide that his daughter, who doesn't know his prognosis, has already been through enough without having to contend with her father spending his final days in prison and manage to conveniently not give the written confession to the police until after he has died.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Moon Lovers: Lady Oh is dying of stomach cancer.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Lie to Me", an old friend of Buffy's is planning to let Spike eat a bunch of Vampire Vannabes in exchange for becoming a vampire himself. When Buffy confronts him, this comes out.
    Ford: I look good, don't I? Let me tell you something. I got maybe six months left and by then what they bury won't even look like me. It'll be bald and shriveled and it'll smell bad. Not human. I'm not going out that way. [Beat] I'm sorry, Summers, did I screw up your righteous anger riff? Does the nest of tumors liquefying my brain kind of spoil the fun?
    Buffy: I'm sorry. I had no idea. But this is still very wrong.
  • Angel: Since the visions Cordelia had were intended for demons, they begin to physically damage her brain. Skip circumvents this by turning her half-demon.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", Dr. McCoy learns that he's suffering from a disease called xenopolycythemia which will kill him in one year. When he tells Kirk about it, he asks him to keep it to himself so he'll be most effective in his job in the time left.
  • Professor Arturo on Sliders had an incurable disease that will kill him in a number of months, but didn't want anyone to know.
  • Hiro from Heroes hides the fact that he has cancer from everyone at the start.
  • President Laura Roslin spends most of the first season of Battlestar Galactica (2003) hiding the fact that she has terminal breast cancer from the fleet at large. Then, after the news broke, and a miracle cured her, it came out at Baltar's trial that she was hiding a relapse.
  • During the early part of season 7 of The X-Files, Mulder is hospitalized for unusual brain activity. At the end of the three-episode arc, it's implied he made a full recovery. In reality, he did not and is dying from an "undiagnosable condition." He hides it from everyone, including the audience. It's not until he goes missing in season 8 that anyone finds out. And how do Scully and Skinner find out? Doggett has the manhunt team bring in his family headstone from North Carolina, which Mulder had recently changed to include his own name, birth year, and anticipated year of death.
  • In the last season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Odo conceals from Kira (with whom he's recently gotten together after many seasons of pining) the fact that he's got the disease that's infected his entire species. Slightly subverted in that Kira is actually perfectly aware of what's going on; she just doesn't let on because she respects Odo's reasons for not telling her.
  • From Firefly, Word of God says this is why Inara joined the crew of Serenity.
  • Early in Breaking Bad, this was Walt's cancer situation. It takes a while before the word "cancer" is even said again after the initial diagnosis. Unlike most examples, though, he does survive.
  • Grace on Degrassi was revealed to have cystic fibrosis which she had been hiding from all of her friends. Her life expectancy was very short and she had come to terms with it. After she had a medical emergency related to her diagnosis she was forced to tell her friends. She eventually got a lung transplant which lengthened her life expectancy considerably.
  • Subverted to hell on House. The ducklings find out that House is dying of brain cancer and has been hiding it from them. They then realize that it isn't cancer and he can be easily cured - only to find out that he was faking terminal brain cancer so he could participate in a drug trial and get really strong painkillers.
  • The pilot of Castle had a business executive whose daughter's murder Beckett was investigating. Castle deduced that he was dying due to no recent pictures and an Incurable Cough of Death. This turns out to be a plot point that helps them identify his daughter's real killer: her brother.
  • Sid on CSI: NY, very possibly. He has Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, which is not invariably fatal, but his is well advanced and there's a real chance it will kill him. Jo knows, but no one else.
  • Jenny Shepard on NCIS was plagued by a fatal disease that would have slowly killed her (it's hinted to be ALS), but instead she went out in a shootout, taking down five people before she succumbed to blood loss. Three years later, Mike Franks also came down with a fatal disease (hinted to be lung cancer from a lifetime of smoking) and chose to go down fighting the Port-To-Port killer. In both cases, nobody except for one person (Ducky in Jenny’s case and Gibbs in Mike’s case) knew about the diseases until the afflicted were already dead.
  • Lady Browne on Call the Midwife is an interesting case. She wasn't technically diagnosed yet, but since she must have been in a great deal of pain from her metastasized cancer, she must have known something was wrong and purposely kept it from her daughter.
  • Jeopardy!: Contestant Cindy Stowell competed on the show after being diagnosed with colon cancer and won over $100,000 over seven episodes. When they called her to invite her to be on the show, she warned them that she would need to compete in the very near future because she wouldn't survive until the end of the year. She and the producers made it a point to hide that she was competing despite having only months to live. Sadly, she died only eight days before her episodes aired. Also sadly, Cindy's winnings had qualified her for the next Tournament of Champions. The returning contestants (and Alex) all wore colon cancer awareness ribbons in her honor during the tournament.
  • Million Yen Women: Implied, then subverted with Yuki. She's at some point seen discussing a brain scan with a doctor who tells her that even with continuing treatment, there are only six months to a year left. It later turns out to be a scan of Yuki's husband, not Yuki herself.
  • Subverted in Elementary. The last ten minutes of the show reveal that Joan has cancer and didn't plan on telling Sherlock, but she is confident that she'll survive. Sherlock stays in New York after learning the diagnosis. After a one-year timeskip, Joan is in remission.
  • In Next (2020), Paul suffers from fatal familial insomnia, and he estimates that he's got maybe five months left to live. In the meantime, he has to contend with hallucinations and delirium and is trying to keep his illness a secret from everyone else, including his brother. The finale reveals that Abby has inherited the condition, and has already reached the insomnia phase, though she's also enrolled in a study to try and treat it.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • Hotch realizes that a suspect is dying of cancer by recognizing the pattern his own father went through before his death: unexplained weight loss, visiting lawyers, closing bank accounts, etc.
    • The prime suspect in a young girl's abduction is her father. Partway through the investigation, it's revealed that the reason he's been pulling away from the mother and was out of contact when the girl went missing was that his cancer had returned and he didn't want them to watch him suffer.
  • In one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the unit questions recurring character Tucker about a case he was involved in; he claims not to remember anything about it, but Benson is sure he's hiding something. He eventually admits the truth: he really doesn't remember the case. But it's not, as he claimed, because it's just one of hundreds of cases he worked - it's because he has brain cancer and is losing his memory.
  • The Blacklist: In Season 6, Reddington starts showing signs of illness, but it's not until Season 7 that the other characters learn that he's sick. It's also at this point that it's confirmed that whatever's wrong with him, it's terminal; all his treatments are only buying him time.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): It's revealed in "In Throes of Increasing Wonder..." that Daniel Molloy has a sub-variant of Parkinson's disease. Only his family and doctor know about it, so he's irked that Louis de Pointe du Lac has somehow learned of it.
  • Tokyo Vice: Yakouza kingpin Tozawa is suffering from an apparently fatal and degenerative disease but hiding it from his clan to maintain his grip on power. He goes so far as to wear makeup to hide its effects.
  • The Summer I Turned Pretty: Susannah turns out to have cancer, and her treatments aren't working. We learn she'd had cancer before, and keeps it from her loved ones for a long time. All of them are very upset to learn of it later. She wanted to enjoy one more summer before her death with them without having it hang over their heads, as she's chosen not to try experimental treatments as doing that was too hard the first time on her, so Susannah just wanted to be herself in her last days. Her sons begging gets her to change her mind however and try the experimental ones.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000; resident Evilutionary Biologist Fabius Bile has the Blight, a gene cancer endemic among the first generation Emperor's Children that nearly wiped out the Legion before they even got on campaign during the Great Crusade. He kept it under wraps for decades prior to the Heresy because saying otherwise would probably get him euthanized, surviving off forging his medical records and stealing healthy organs from other Astartes. Eventually, Bile switched to Body Surfing via clones to keep ahead of the Blight, though he still does his best to keep the truth hidden in case one of his many enemies might sense weakness and destroy him and his research in one swoop.

  • In Act Five of Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano tries to keep his mortal wound from showing to his beloved, Roxanne.
  • Violetta from Verdi's La Traviata is so adept at downplaying her illness that almost no one, not even her love interest, seems to even suspect that she is dying of consumption until she is actually on her deathbed.
  • Inverted in Puccini's La Bohème, where it is Mimi who seems unaware of the gravity of her illness. Rodolfo is the one who knows that if he doesn't give her up and let her find a wealthier man, she will surely die in his impoverished living conditions.
  • Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet downplays the severity of his mortal wound at first: "Ay ay, a scratch, a scratch". Shortly after, it becomes obvious: "I am peppered (finished), I warrant, for this world."

    Video Games 
  • EXTRAPOWER: Attack of Darkforce: Ryo is revealed to be a defector from the Tarantula organization and one of the earlier users of the power stones that give him his Henshin Hero status. Unfortunately, his Gecko Stone works by sapping the life of its user, and he's been using it long enough for his death to be soon approaching. He hides all this behind his smug smile and is sworn to help Torajiro take down Tarantula while there is still life in him.
  • Proto Man from Mega Man (Classic) knows that his power supply is flawed and will eventually run out of energy and he's too distrusting of Dr. Light to get it fixed. He'd prefer to not tell others about it and just accept when his fate will come.
  • In inFAMOUS 2, Zeke catches The Virus and hides it from Cole until Cole's powers allow him to plainly see it.
  • Persona 3:
    • Shinjiro Aragaki is slowly killing himself with power-inhibiting drugs. He refrains from mentioning his poor health to anyone, mostly because he's expecting one of two other things to kill him before the side effects of the drugs manage to do it, and because he thinks he deserves it. Even when it comes out that he was taking the suppressants, he waves off any concerns about the side effects and only comes close to hinting at how little time he has to the female protagonist in the last few stages of his Social Link.
    • The Protagonist goes through this in the good ending. After performing a Heroic Sacrifice, s/he is just living to meet up with everyone on graduation day, as they promised. However, everyone in SEES has forgotten about what they've accomplished, even if they haven't forgotten about the protagonist. Only one person remembers ( Aigis) and she makes sure that he or she won't die alone. Unless this is Portable with a New Game Plus, then the preferred Love Interest can spend the Protagonist's last few seconds with him/her.
  • In AI: The Somnium Files, Genki Girl and Mysterious Waif Iris says early on in the game that she's going to die soon but quickly plays it off as a joke. In certain routes, it's revealed that she has terminal brain cancer and has a few months to live, at most. She doesn't survive most routes as a result of either the tumor or the Serial Killer, but in the Golden Ending the Boss manages to pull some strings to fund the treatment with nanomachines she previously couldn't afford to cure her.
  • Hanbe from Sengoku Basara hides his tuberculosis from Hideyoshi and Mitsunari, who know he's ill, just not that it's terminal. If they were aware they'd probably either lose hope and abandon the conquest of Japan or force him to stop being The Strategist.
  • Comes completely unexpected in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots with Naomi Hunter, who reveals it just after she disabled the implants that extended her life for the last couple of years, and dies within the next few minutes, having completed the last thing she needed to do.
  • Depending on how you interpret the implications, Dr. Neil Watts from To the Moon. Either that or he's addicted to painkillers.
  • Tales of the Abyss:
    • Late into 'the game, Luke's Fonon's (the particles that make up his body) begin breaking down after the events at the Tower of Rem. He opts to keep this a secret from the rest of the party so they won't treat him differently. Subverted in that they all figure it out eventually.
    • Asch. Mostly found out by doing a rather obscure sidequest with late or strange time frames, it's explained that because of how Luke was created from him, he's dying. Well, maybe. Probably. The doctor-scientist that explained this to him used many extensive words that no layman would understand easily. Given the conversation, it sounds like Asch flat out misunderstood the guy and might actually have not been dying after all...
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, if her approval rating gets high enough, White Mage Wynne eventually reveals to you that her life is being artificially sustained by a benevolent spirit, but she knows it won't last forever.
  • Litchi Faye-Ling from BlazBlue contracted the same corruption that turned her friend Lotte into the creature known as Arakune, and is slowly being consumed by the corruption which will cause either complete memory loss or turning the rest into Arakune. To others, she'll try to say that "There's just someone I need to save," and pass off with a reassuring smile and the image of a helpful, compassionate lady that she's fine, to the point that nobody else knows that she's secretly dying. Part of her not revealing it may have to do with how she didn't want to burden everyone that doesn't know better with her quest to save Lotte along with her Guilt Complex.
  • Halfway through Jess' character quests in Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis, she reveals that she's been terminally ill since childhood, and attempts to cure her have only managed to prolong the inevitable. Subverted in that she doesn't feel a need to hide it; she's lived with the knowledge long enough that she doesn't understand how sad death makes other people. The subject just never came up, and when it does her delivery is so casual that Vayne has trouble believing her.
  • Fire Emblem:
  • Minecraft: Story Mode: Whoever you saved from the Wither Storm has been infected by it. They don't want to tell the rest of the group because they're worried it'll slow down the quest, but most of the party has already figured out that something's up.
  • Y'sthola during the Heavensward expansion in Final Fantasy XIV is rescued from The Lifestream at the cost of her eyesight. To compensate, she uses her own aether to see while fully knowing that doing so will eventually kill her. Nobody except her mentor knows about it.
  • Red Dead Redemption II: Arthur Morgan tries his best to hide his tuberculosis from the rest of the Van der Linde gang, but does give in once he enters the final stages of his illness.
  • In Fate/Extella Link, Charlie's Spiritual Core is slowly degrading as he was never supposed to be summoned. As a result, he's slowly dying throughout the story and will inevitably vanish once Karl der Grobe is defeated. He hides this from the rest of the cast to keep them from worrying about him, but Astolfo catches on quickly.
  • In Relayer, Terra is the result of the Will of the Earth granting a new personality to a girl rendered brain-dead by the experiments conducted on her. While this version of Terra lives for two or three years, that brain damage didn't just go away and begins to take away her senses and body functions during the final arc. Terra only confesses after she suddenly faints while Luna is trying to reconcile with her, and Uranus estimates some time later that Terra has a month to live. She dies in the epilogue.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Daughter for Dessert, Lainie had a mysterious illness that she kept from the protagonist, but used to get money after her family had cut her off. But instead of using it for her treatment, she gave it to the protagonist to start his diner. And as for Lainie, her illness killed her while she was giving birth to Amanda.
  • In the Jiyel origin subplot in Seven Kingdoms: The Princess Problem, you are. The threatening letter you received - intended for your cousin, the original delegate - turns out to have been coated with a rare and highly lethal poison. While there is no known cure, it's very slow-acting, giving you at least a few weeks of time to look for a solution.
  • Danganronpa
  • Shingen from Ikemen Sengoku hides the fact that he's slowly dying from a terminal illness from everyone except for a few of his closest allies. Fortunately, once the main character finally learns about this, she reveals to him that she's a time traveler who can take him back to her time to get him treated by modern-day doctors.


    Western Animation 
  • The protagonist's deceased father in Jem knew he was dying and kept it from his daughters. He decided to make them one last gift - a supercomputer named Synergy - but didn't live long enough to personally give it to them.
  • A slightly different version of this trope comes up in the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Dying for Pie." Having assumed Spongebob swallowed a bomb, Squidward spent the whole day with him hoping to make his last hours meaningful.
  • The Simpsons: When Homer Simpson thinks he's eaten poison blowfish and that he has 24 hours to live, he decides telling the kids will just upset them. (Of course, he hasn't actually eaten the poison in the first place.)
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender has Shiro, who is revealed to have a terminal illness from before the series began.

    Real Life 
  • Admiral Yi Sun-Shin died this way, suffering a mortal injury due to a chance shot during the Battle of Noryang. Witnessed only by three people, his final orders were to press the attack home and to hide his death from the crew and fleet, to avoid ruining morale at a critical moment. Two of the witnesses — his son and his nephew — carried his body into his cabin unnoticed. His nephew then put on his armor and pretended to be Admiral Yi for the remainder of the battle. His final victory was thus won posthumously.
  • Bill Hicks never told anyone but his doctors that he had cancer until he died from it in February 1994, just weeks after his last live performance.
  • One version of the death of Turkish Sultan Murad I at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 is that he was killed in his tent before or during the battle by a Serb pretending to defect, and asked his entourage to make sure the news didn't get out to his army. Unfortunately for colorful historical tales, there are other versions in which he is killed fighting during the battle or even afterwards.
  • Freddie Mercury kept his AIDS diagnosis secret from everyone except his fellow members of Queen and a few close friends, not publicly revealing he had AIDS until the day before he died in November 1991. Media outlets successfully guessed that he had AIDS since the late '80s, but he and the rest of Queen still fought off the topic (with Mercury claiming he was simply exhausted from years of performing) until it became impossible to avoid.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt had his health rapidly decline starting around late 1943 (due to a combination of the effort taken to hiding his paralysis, his smoking habit, and the stresses of being a wartime President during the height of World War II); but he nevertheless ran for a fourth term and attempted to hide his health problems. He managed to get re-elected but died just under three months into that term.
  • Similarly, John F. Kennedy was much sicker than he ever let on as President. He had been chronically ill since childhood, but his health problems really snowballed as an adult. His bad back that he got from an injury playing football in college, then exacerbated in the Navy was common knowledge, but everything else was largely a secret. An opposition research operation found out about his hormonal disorder Addison's disease but his campaign put out an accurate albeit misleading statement that he didn't have Addison's stemming from tuberculosis. He suffered from (in no particular order): terrible allergies, digestive issues, persistent urinary tract infections, recurring bacterial abscesses, and high cholesterol on top of his hormonal and back problems. As President, he was on antidepressants, steroids, antihistamines, painkillers, stimulants, various antibiotics, and hormone replacement together at any given time. Of course, we will never know what would have happened to him had he not been assassinated, but it’s not hard to imagine him not being long for the world.
  • French president François Mitterrand was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1981 a few months after being elected. He managed to hide it for eleven years since it would have hampered him politically, especially with the 1988 presidential election, which got him reelected. His illness was revealed in 1992; he then died on January 1, 1996, a few months after finishing his second term.
  • David Bowie had been suffering from liver cancer since mid-2014, but had managed to keep his condition a secret until he died at the start of 2016. His final album, , was released two days earlier to widespread acclaim and took on additional meaning after his death, as it grappled with his once-secret mortality and him coming to terms with it.
  • Alan Rickman had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer around August 2015 when he suffered a stroke. His health rapidly declined until his death in early January 2016 (just days after the above-mentioned David Bowie), through which he managed to hide it from the public.
  • Scatman John kept his cancer diagnosis to himself and continued to record and tour until the very end. He collapsed during his final show, which took place barely a week before his death in December 1999.
  • Stephen King's autobiography/memoir/how-to On Writing describes how his mother got hospitalized and died very suddenly of uterine cancer... because she'd been actively hiding her developing symptoms for fear of causing a fuss. She'd actually been sick for a long time.
  • During the last years of his life, Gene Wilder was struggling with Alzheimer's Disease. However, it wasn't revealed until after he died in August 2016. His family said they'd hidden it because he did not want his youngest fans to worry about "poor old Mr. Wonka" and feel sad for him when they saw him in public.
  • The reason why Chadwick Boseman's death in August 2020 from Stage IV colon cancer came as a great shock to the public is that nobody outside of his family knew he was even sick in the first place. He had battled the disease for four years, all while making some of his best-known films. He did look very emaciated in the months prior to his passing, leading to much speculation, including cancer.
  • Similar to Boseman's situation was Jerry Orbach. He was diagnosed with cancer over a decade before his death in December 2004, meaning he was sick during his entire time on Law & Order. Yet, he never asked for special treatment or any extended time off until his final year on the show, when he requested and was granted a smaller role on the spin-off Law & Order: Trial by Jury (and even then, it was believed that his age was his reason for slowing down).
  • Norm Macdonald was diagnosed with cancer nine years before his death in September 2021. Only family and a few close friends knew of the state of his health, with Macdonald fearing that going public with his diagnosis would "affect the way he was perceived".
  • Japanese actor Kenji Ushio was invited to appear at the 32nd Japan SF Convention in 1993 but suffered an incident in his hotel room related to illness on the night before the event. Despite this, he went on to appear at the convention anyway while hiding his illness and later passed away less than one month after the convention.
  • Veteran stand-up comedian and voice actor Gilbert Gottfried passed away in April 2022 from what was described as a "long illness", later revealed to be recurrent ventricular tachycardia complicated by type II myotonic dystrophy. His condition was not known to anyone outside of his family and publicist.
  • Subverted with Willie Garson. Whereas his family knew about his terminal pancreatic cancer, according to interviews with the cast of And Just Like That..., the only other person who knew that he was dying was his co-star and good friend Sarah Jessica Parker (which makes the scenes of Big's funeral all the more heartbreaking).
  • Kevin Conroy, best known as the iconic voice of the Caped Crusader beginning with the '90s animated series, died in November 2022 after a short battle with intestinal cancer. He never made his cancer public to anyone other than his own family members, and this was naturally shocking to Batman fans all around the world.
  • Painter Bob Ross died on July 4th, 1995, of complications from lymphoma. Until his death, his diagnosis was not known to anyone outside of his family and the staff of his TV show.
  • Designer Virgil Abloh (of Off-White and Louis Vuitton fame) hid his 2019 cancer diagnosis from all but his family until his death in December 2021.
  • Annie Wersching was diagnosed with cancer in 2020, almost 3 years before her death in January 2023, during which time she was starring as the Borg Queen in season 2 of Star Trek: Picard. Her death shocked the Trek community, who were unaware of her illness. Only her family knew of her condition.
  • Paul Reubens battled cancer for 6 years before his death in July 2023, without telling anyone outside his family.