LUNG Cancer

Living with lung cancer can be difficult, frightening, and sometimes overwhelming. Apart from having to cope with physical change, lack of energy, and other limitations on normal life, people who have lung cancer face worries, feelings, and concerns that can make day-to-day life a trial. Sadly, there also seems to be a social stigma attached to lung cancer, because many believe that only people who smoke cigarettes or some other form of tobacco get it. This is not always the case, but even if it happens to be true for you, try not to hold yourself responsible for getting lung cancer. Too many factors go into the development of cancer for any one cause to dominate all others. (And don't forget that quitting smoking can help you live longer, no matter what your diagnosis.)

If you are ill, it is helpful to draw on the support of people around you, whether they are family, friends, or medical professionals. To begin with, if family members or friends are smokers, please ask them to stop smoking in your presence. They should at the very least accommodate your health needs. If they can provide active, positive support as well, so much the better. After support, the second most important part of your care is communication. It may seem obvious, but when you can communicate your feelings about what's troubling you -- such as loss of income, insurance coverage, and changes to your body and loss of function -- it makes it easier for everyone. If you release some of these fears through talking, you may well find that you feel better and that your loved ones can be more helpful to you.

Things you may want to talk about with family and/or your health care providers are:

>> Your fears about tests, treatment, hospitalization, or medical bills;

>> Your concerns about your ability to continue working, caring for family, or other daily activities;

>> Your feelings about spiritual issues and death;

>> Worries about being a burden to family and friends; and

>> Feelings about whether you are in control of your life.

Family members can be extremely supportive, particularly if they have had personal experience with cancer. On the other hand, you may find it easier to speak with people you are not close to -- either professional helpers or other patients facing similar problems. Often, people with cancer feel that speaking their mind, or discussing serious issues, places too large a burden on family members, or that relatives have strong feelings of their own, often too painful to contend with. If this is the case for you, then finding a "neutral," safe source of help can ease your conscience when you finally let your feelings come out, and you won't have to worry about upsetting anyone if, for example, you feel angry or guilty.

There are many cancer support groups, often organized and run by professional social workers, where patients gather to talk about the ups and downs and challenges of living with cancer. This can be a good place to hear how others are coping with cancer, and with the effects of treatment. You may also want to ask your doctor or nurse about individual help: a counselor, therapist, social worker, or clergy member can help you sort out concerns or feelings you may have about the future or about personal relationships. In some cases, as with Cancer Care, this professional help is free. There are also many national, state, and local groups that help with rehabilitation, emotional support, financial aid, transportation, and home care.

Finally, and most of all, you will want to establish a good working relationship with your health care team. Your active participation -- a willingness to ask question, discuss options, and bring up all of your concerns -- will help your doctors and nurses to manage your care more effectively. Be sure to follow all of their advice and instructions so you can benefit the most from treatment and be as comfortable as you can. You may wish to take a few minutes after every doctor's visit to jot down what he or she said. In between visits, when a concern arises, it is good to make a note of that as well.