Living in the moment can help control anxiety and feelings of despair. Thinking about what can be accomplished or lived in the next few minutes or hours, such as an upcoming visit from a relative or friend, shifts thoughts to a pleasurable event rather than the frightening unknown of the more distant future.
Patients can be reminded that their loved ones draw strength from them, too, and that every moment that the patient spends with a spouse, sibling, child, or grandchild is valuable and a potential source of joy not only for them but also for their loved ones. In other words, there is always important sharing to be done, both from and to the patient, even if a patient with lung cancer feels that he or she is in a diminished state.
Realistic planning can bolster hope and dignity. Thinking about how to help others, whether through offering support to other patients or helping loved ones plan for life without the patient is meaningful, important work. Putting one’s affairs in order, making sure a will is in place may bring peace of mind. Support groups, relaxation training, antidepression or antianxiety medication and individual or family counseling may be helpful.
Determining a patient’s stress level will likely be helpful early in treatment, or even at the time of diagnosis. Mental health specialists—a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, or clergy—are often readily available in hospitals.
There are also several organizations that offer help and sources of information about treatment, financial support, and counseling for both patients and caregivers. A list of support groups in the United States is available from the Lung Cancer Alliance (www.lungcanceralliance.org). Lungcancer.org, a program of CancerCare, is a nonprofit organization that provides free, professional support including counseling, support groups, financial assistance, educational workshops, and publications to anyone coping with lung cancer. Navigatelungcancer.org offers guidance to patients and families with new diagnoses; for patients and families seeking information about medical issues, the NCI website (www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/lung) is a good resource, with a dictionary of cancer terms, government publications, and help with finding clinical trials.
Patients who are searching for nontechnical books about dealing with the psychological effects of cancer would do well to read The Human Side of Cancer, by Jimmie Holland and Sheldon Lewis, or Help Me Live, by Lori Hope.
Andrew Chesler is an oncology social worker at CancerCare.
1. Lung cancer statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/statistics/. Accessed April 3, 2015.
2. Adler NE, Page AEK, eds. Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2008. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK4011/?report. Accessed April 3, 2015.