How to Care for Yourself When You Have Lung Cancer

How to Care for Yourself When You Have Lung Cancer

After you receive a diagnosis of lung cancer, it is normal to feel scared and alone. Here are some things you can do to help take care of yourself. 

Taking Care of Your Spiritual and Mental Health  

When you receive a diagnosis of lung cancer, you will very likely experience a broad range of emotions. It is very likely that that your first reaction may be one of disbelief and denial – There has to be a mistake. I can’t have lung cancer. As you begin to accept that the diagnosis is real, you may feel angry – This isn’t fair. What did I do to deserve this? It is also very common to get depressed and have feelings of hopelessness during your treatment. This is particularly true when you are not feeling well and find that you cannot do those things you can usually do. Throughout your treatment, you may very well be scared. This fear may be related to the diagnosis itself, the treatments you are going through, or simply the fear of the unknown. All of these reactions are normal.

You may look to your church, religion, or spiritual beliefs to help you cope with your diagnosis and treatments. There are studies that show that spirituality may help you adjust to your diagnosis and treatments in a way that will help you cope with the new stressors in your life. Your spirituality may be expressed as an organized religion, yoga, the arts, or any other outlet that allows you to express your feelings about life. If you are a member of a religious or spiritual community or church, the other members of the community can be an excellent source of support to you and to your family.

A nutritionist or dietitian experienced in cancer care can help you identify a diet that will taste good to you and provide the nutrition you need.

The diagnosis of lung cancer has a profound effect on you, but it also has a huge impact on your loved ones. There are many support groups available to you and your family and friends. To find these groups, search “lung cancer support groups” online. Your local treatment center or hospital may also have a support group. Your social worker or case manager should be able to give you contact information for those groups.

As you progress through treatment, dealing with stress and depression will be critical. If you find yourself having problems coping, ask your oncologist for a referral to a mental health professional. Depending on the kind of help you need, your doctor may refer you to one of a number of different professionals: psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric clinical nurse specialists. 

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who provides counseling, medication, and other treatments for mental and emotional disorders. A clinical psychologist is a professional with advanced training in psychology. This professional provides counseling for individuals with mental or emotional needs. A psychiatric clinical nurse specialist is a master’s prepared nurse with advanced training in mental health nursing. This nurse may provide counseling or teaching for survivors and families with mental health needs. 

As you progress through treatment, dealing with stress and depression will be critical. If you find yourself having problems coping, ask your oncologist for a referral to a mental health professional.

Be sure that the mental health professional you work with has experience working with people with cancer. A mental health professional without experience in cancer care may not understand the physical and emotional issues and stressors with which you are faced. Your oncologist will be able to direct you to an appropriate mental health specialist. Remember, there is no shame in asking for this support!

Making Sure You Get the Nutrition You Need  

Nutrition is a critical piece of your lung cancer journey. Be sure your healthcare team includes a nutritionist or dietitian who can help develop a menu that is best for you while going through treatments. Ask your oncologist to help find the right nutritionist for you.

During treatment, you may have side effects that cause you to lose your appetite. A nutritionist or dietitian experienced in cancer care can help you identify a diet that will taste good to you and provide the nutrition you need. There are foods that may interfere with your treatments or help boost your immune system; a qualified nutritionist will help you identify those foods. There are many cookbooks available with easy recipes for people with cancer.

In addition to meals provided by your immediate support group, your nutritionist or dietitian can help you find other sources for delivery of meals when you need them. Many communities have a Meals on Wheels program. To find out if there is a program in your area, visit their website at You can also check with your church or other local religious organizations that might have meal programs. Your social worker or nutritionist should be able to find contacts for you.

Traveling When You Have Lung Cancer  

If you travel during cancer treatment, be sure to take a copy of your medical records and a list of all your medications, including brand and generic names, dose, and frequency. Also, be sure you have contact information for your oncologist. If you have to get medical care while you are on the road, the information you can provide will be valuable to those caregivers who don’t know you.

Before you fly or visit a high-altitude location, ask your doctor to perform a High Altitude Simulation Test (HAST) to determine if you will need oxygen when you are traveling. Some airlines provide oxygen for therapeutic or medical purposes (often at an additional cost). There are also portable oxygen concentrators for flying, traveling, or simply doing things outside the home setting. Check with your airline to see if you can purchase inflight medical oxygen or bring your own. Either way, you will need a signed order from your physician. Make sure to plan ahead and check with each airline for your options and arrangements.

If traveling by bus or train, two weeks’ notice is often needed for booking travel with a portable oxygen concentrator.

Understanding Alternative and Complementary Therapies for Lung Cancer 

If you do research about lung cancer, you will find a lot of information about alternative or complementary therapies. Complementary therapy is any treatment that is used along with standard treatment. These treatments may enhance the treatments prescribed by your oncologist. Alternative therapies are treatments that are used as a substitute for the standard treatment prescribed by your oncologist. These treatments are used instead of the standard treatments. Before using any complementary or alternative therapy, be sure to discuss the therapy with your oncologist and healthcare team.

According to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, these therapies may or may not be useful “to promote wellness, manage symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment, or treat cancer. When properly combined with standard cancer treatments, some complementary therapies can enhance wellness and quality of life.” However, others may be harmful or may actually interfere with your medical treatment. It is imperative to discuss any of these alternative treatments with your healthcare team, as your complementary or alternative therapy may interfere with your standard cancer care.

The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation’s Lung Cancer Living Room is a monthly online education and support series group session that welcomes people with lung cancer, families, and friends. Through presentations by lung cancer specialists, physicians, and researchers, this un-restricted forum covers all topics: early detection, treatment options, molecular and genetic testing, clinical trials, drug discoveries, personalized medicine, nutrition, surgical equipment and procedures, up-to-date news about advancements, and more. During these monthly meetings, participants can share their personal stories, get advice and support from others, receive critical information from caring doctors, and have access to lung cancer researchers. For more information, visit, email, or call (650) 598-2857.

Reprinted with permission from The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation,

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, November/December 2018.