In recent years, there have been some exciting developments in treating lung cancer. But a diagnosis of lung cancer can still be overwhelming and leave feelings of uncertainty and anxiousness. There are important treatment decisions to make, emotional concerns to manage, and insurance and financial paperwork to organize, among other practical concerns. However, there are ways to cope through this journey as caregiver, and resources are available to benefit you and your loved one.
The impact of lung cancer can be felt in close relationships as the responsibility of providing care falls on your shoulders. As you navigate the peaks and valleys of helping a friend or family member cope with lung cancer, here are some tips to help you effectively care for your loved one and for yourself.
Avoid Information Overload
Upon hearing that someone close to you has been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may find yourself searching websites to learn more about the disease and treatment options. Looking at lung cancer statistics can leave you or your loved one feeling anxious or even depressed.
Remember that statistics are numbers that catalog thousands of individuals. They do not represent the specific outcome that your loved one will face. It is also important to remember that a survivor’s prognosis can change over the course of treatment, especially with the approval of new treatments or by enrolling in clinical trials. Talk with your healthcare team about the specific prognosis for your loved one and any questions you may have about lung cancer.
Be Aware of Stigmas
A lung cancer diagnosis can come with stigmas associated with the disease. As a caregiver and advocate, you may have to overcome prejudice or bias on three different levels.
• Society Someone who has never been exposed to cigarette smoke or tobacco products can be diagnosed with lung cancer. The public may automatically assume that a lung cancer diagnosis means the survivor has a history of smoking.
• Family The pressures of caring for someone with lung cancer may cause some family members to inadvertently make a loved one feel guilty about a cancer diagnosis, especially if it is a result of smoking. Since cancer affects the entire family, consider talking with an oncology social worker to work through the mix of emotions that come with being a caregiver.
• Personal A cancer diagnosis can cause a person to reflect upon past choices to identify what could have led to the diagnosis. Your loved one may feel guilty and think the cancer is deserved. If you notice he or she is taking the blame for their lung cancer diagnosis, work with the healthcare team to provide appropriate support.
• Take a break and do something that you enjoy.
• Know your limits. Don’t be afraid to say no to family and friends.
• Write down your thoughts and feelings.
• Seek the support of a professional counselor or oncology social worker.
• Join a support group.
Take Care of Yourself
It is important to not get burned out when caring for someone with lung cancer. Remember to take care of yourself as you strive to stay on top of tracking doctor’s appointments, treatment schedules, updating family and friends, as well as juggling your own life. As a caregiver, you should prepare yourself to experience highs and lows as part of the cancer journey.
Seek counseling from a professional oncology social worker, delegate caregiving responsibilities to friends and family, and spend some alone time to relax and recharge. Consider joining a support group. You may find it is helpful talking to other caregivers who are going through a similar situation.
CancerCare offers free face-to-face, telephone, and online support groups led by professional oncology social workers. To learn more, call (800) 813-4673.
Reprinted with permission from cancercare.org.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2017.