When Your Loved One Has Lung Cancer

When Your Loved One Has Lung Cancer

What to do when your loved one has lung cancer. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©lisafx

Where do you begin when your loved one has lung cancer? Wouldn't it be great if we all had an experienced mentor who had walked the journeys we walk?

The following slides share some thoughts and insights from those who have taken the journey as a loved one of someone with lung cancer; tips they longed to pass along.

Yet keep in mind that everyone is different. Just as every person with cancer -- even people with the same type and stage of cancer -- is different, what works and doesn't work for you as a caregiver differs from what may help someone else in your position. Caring for a loved one with cancer is one of the most honorable roles you may play in life, but the old adages "be true to yourself" and "you have to take care of yourself first" were never closer to the truth. Don't feel guilty when you need to put yourself first and make sure to include your own needs (even if silent) in perspective.

Brace Yourself and Get Ready for a Marathon

The cancer journey is a marathon not a sprint. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©ollirg

Lung cancer is a marathon, not a sprint. Just as you would pace yourself if you ran a marathon, pace yourself in the journey you are undertaking as a cancer caregiver.

Though there are certainly emergencies, most decisions don’t have to be made immediately.  When your loved one is first diagnosed it can feel surreal to both of you. And even though there are typical stages people go through in accepting a diagnosis of cancer, every step from denial to anger to acceptance can take place in those first days.If you are feeling paralyzed, like a deer in the headlights, check out these tips on first steps to take after a diagnosis of cancer.

Instead of running yourself dry, consider your loved one's support system as well as your own friends and loved ones. This is a good time to learn to delegate. Take a moment to consider the special talents and gifts of your friends and family. In what ways could each of them help you when challenges arise?

Learn About Your Loved One's Cancer

Educate yourself about your loved one's lung cancer. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©alexskopje

 Take time to learn about your loved one's cancer. Studies suggest that people who are their own advocates and educate themselves have better outcomes than those who do not. How?

Ask questions. Accompany your loved one to oncology visits and take notes. Bring a list of questions.

It is possible to find credible medical information online, but it's important to consider the sites. Is the information written or reviewed by a board-certified physician? When was the information last updated? Are sources cited so that you can investigate what you learn in greater depth? Try to stick with well-respected health information sites.

Help to Minimize the Stigma

Help your loved one cope with the stigma of lung cancer. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©koya79

If your loved one has been coping with lung cancer for some time, I don’t need to point out the stigma of lung cancer. In contrast to the words of caring and support most people hear when they share their diagnosis, the first words spoken to someone with lung cancer are often: How long did you smoke? This happens regardless of whether or not someone has smoked, and does not consider that we all have habits that may contribute to cancer, whether dietary, a sedentary lifestyle, or too much stress.

The first step is to avoid building on this stigma in the first place. Questions such as “don’t you wish you had quit smoking earlier?” have no place in this setting. You can be sure that most people with cancer have already inflicted enough of this second guessing on themselves. Yet beyond watching your own words, you are in an ideal role as an advocate for your loved one to remind them of their worth and play interference.

"Defend" your loved one and take charge when needed. When people ask your loved one about her smoking status it may be a good time to provide some education. "Anyone with lungs can get lung cancer." Perhaps this is the time to let another know that there are more non-smoking women who die from lung cancer each year than who die from breast cancer. Perhaps it is even time to provide education on a broader point: "Nobody deserves cancer.  Everyone with lung cancer deserves love, compassion, and the best medical care possible."

As you begin this journey with your loved one, check out some of these ideas on how to cope with insensitive remarks when you have lung cancer, as well as things NOT to say to someone with lung cancer.

Provide Unconditional Support

Provide unconditional support for a loved one with cancer. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©Ocskaymark

At first, this may sound easy -- "provide unconditional support" -- but it will likely be the hardest thing you have ever done.  

Not only is cancer a marathon, but those living with lung cancer are coping with fears and uncertainty, anger and pain. Cancer emotions can run strong, and deep, and change many times even within a single day. There may be days where you would rather catch an international flight anywhere, than be there for your loved one.

As noted earlier, providing unconditional support means leaving an evaluation of the causes of lung cancer to the researchers and epidemiologists. Your role is to help your loved one feel empowered and receive the best treatment possible no matter what she may have done in the past to raise the likelihood of developing cancer.

Check out these tips for supporting a loved one with cancer. While some of these are certainly intuitive, there are some things people don't really comprehend until they are diagnosed with cancer themselves. Life changes when someone receives the dreaded "C" diagnosis.

Consider Special Situations Such as Holidays Ahead of Time

Prepare ahead for holidays when your loved one has cancer. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©Wavebreakmedia

The holidays are often stressful even for people without cancer. Adding cancer to the equation can be the last straw on the camel's back unless you plan a bit ahead of time. On the other hand, with careful forethought, this can be an extra special time to enjoy each other.

Prioritizing and simplifying your usual holiday schedule is a great step in reducing the stress of the season. Limit the number of activities, and make sure to leave flexibility in your plans to allow for the inevitable problems that can arise given a diagnosis of cancer.

Take time to think about what the season means to you. Some cancer caregivers have found healing in making the season a time of forgiveness for past conflicts. You may not be able to follow tradition as you have in the past, but this isn't always bad. Consider ways in which you can create new memories - one's that will carry you through the rough winter months that can follow the holidays.

Check out these tips on coping with the holidays as a cancer patient, and coping with the holidays as a caregiver for someone with cancer.

Care for Yourself

Take time to care for yourself when a loved one has cancer. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©Milan Markovic

 I know many of you will absolutely cringe when I say, "Take care of yourself." And I can already hear the rebuttal. "Who has time for themselves when a loved one has cancer?"  "There are only 24 hours in a day." I know. I've been there myself, and I know that sometimes we have to put our own wants and needs on the back burner.

There are some things you can do to honor yourself that don't take hours of your time. It may seem forced, but take a moment and list a few activities that you would find healing and rejuvenating for you alone. Is it 10 minutes to soak in a tub with candles? When you are feeling overwhelmed, or worse, guilty for taking time for yourself, consider what you would want your loved one to do if the tables were turned.

Check out some of these tips on caring for yourself as you care for someone with cancer for ideas on how to restore your own spirit while caring for another.

Recognize and Own Your Grief

Consider your own grief when a loved one has cancer. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©Dimedrol68

Just as your loved one is grieving her diagnosis, you will be facing grief as well. If your loved one has a poor prognosis, those feelings of grief may be readily apparent, but grieving occurs for many other reasons as well.

You may be grieving your loss of time -- time that you ordinarily would have spent doing some other activity. You may be grieving for the losses your loved one is experiencing. You may be grieving the time that your children may not have with a parent due to the diagnosis. You may be grieving the loss of financial security that cancer presents.

Whatever your grief, take the time to recognize your feelings. Sometimes people have to work through their own grief before helping a loved one. With cancer there is often also anticipatory grief - the feelings of sadness and loss we feel even before a loss occurs.Check out some of the tips on coping with anticipatory grief for both yourself and your loved one.

Find Outside Support

Find outside support when a loved one has cancer. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©Dangubic

Just as your loved one needs support from you, it's important that you receive support from your own network of friends.

Even though you may have the most supportive friends imaginable, there is something special about talking with someone who is facing the same challenges. Are there any caregiver support groups in your community?

Online support groups and communities have a few advantages for caregivers of people with lung cancer. Unlike breast cancer support groups, those specifically designed for family members of people with lung cancer in your community may be hard to come by. Going online gives you access to people who may live thousands of miles away, yet have an understanding of exactly what you are feeling. Another advantage is that you don't need to leave home to join these communities and other members are available 24/7. Some of these include:

Hang on to HOPE

Hang on to hope when your loved one has lung cancer. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©saiva

There are many reasons to hang on to hope as your loved one copes with lung cancer.

  • Treatments ARE improving.
  • There ARE long term survivors - even of stage 4 lung cancer.
  • There IS support.
  • You are NOT alone.

Are you struggling in your efforts to kindle hope in your loved one? 

Next Steps in Your Caregiver Journey

Next steps as you care for a loved one with cancer. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©Tomwang112

Though everyone faces a different journey, there are similarities along the way. One of my favorite resources on being a caregiver for a loved one with lung cancer wasn't written by a doctor. It wasn't penned by a social worker or the director of a non-profit. Instead, it was published by someone who knows the landscape of caregiving in more depth and with greater intimacy. Cancer Journey: A Caregiver's View From the Passenger Seat by Cynthia Siegfried is the story of her journey as she supports her husband who has lung cancer through the ups and downs and corkscrews of life.

Perhaps you want to write out your own journey. Journaling your cancer caregiver journey can be therapeutic while leaving a legacy for your family.

Though anyone who has cared for a loved one with lung cancer will tell you that the road is difficult and challenging, it is one of the greatest things you can do as a human being to share your love. Maybe you will even be inspired to become an advocate for others facing lung cancer,but first, learn when to say no to take care of yourself. You are worth it!


American Cancer Society. Coping With Cancer in Everyday Life. Updated 06/26/14. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/emotionalsideeffects/copingwithcancerineverydaylife/a-message-of-hope-for-spouses-families-friends

National Cancer Institute. For Family and Friends. Updated 12/02/14. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/family-friends

Continue Reading