Coping with lung cancer

You might have lots of emotions to cope with when you are diagnosed with lung cancer. There is help and support available.

Your feelings

You might have a number of different feelings when you're told you have cancer. You may feel shocked and upset. You might also feel:

  • numb
  • frightened and uncertain
  • confused
  • angry and resentful
  • guilty

You may have some or all of these feelings. Or you might feel totally different. Everyone reacts in their own way. Sometimes it's hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.

Experiencing different feelings is a natural part of coming to terms with cancer. All sorts of feelings are likely to come and go.

Helping yourself

You may be more able to cope and make decisions if you have information about your type of cancer and its treatment. Information helps you to know what to expect.

Taking in information can be difficult, especially when you have just been diagnosed. Make a list of questions before you see your doctor. Take someone with you to remind you what you want to ask and help remember the answers.

Ask your doctors and nurses to explain things again if you need them to.

Remember that you don’t have to sort everything out at once. It might take some time to deal with each issue. Ask for help if you need it.

Talking to other people

Talking to your friends and relatives about your cancer can help and support you. But some people are scared of the emotions this could bring up and won’t want to talk. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. But talking can help increase trust and support between you and them.

Help your family and friends by letting them know if you would like to talk about what’s happening and how you feel.

You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family. We have cancer information nurses you can call on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Or you may prefer to see a counsellor.

Specialist nurses can help you if you’re finding it difficult to cope or if you have any problems. They can get you the help you need. They can also give you information.

Dietitians can help you with any eating problems you have. These might include difficulty eating or swallowing.  

Physical problems of lung cancer

Lung cancer and its treatments are likely to cause physical changes in your body. These might affect the way you feel about yourself.

You may have symptoms such as a cough or breathlessness. This can make you anxious.

Changes such as weight loss and hair loss can affect your self esteem and the way you relate to other people. Your dietitian can help you with any weight loss issues and your nurse can help you look at ways to cope with hair loss.

Tiredness and feeling lethargic a lot of the time is common during treatment and for some months afterwards. Resting but also doing some gentle physical activity can help.

Surgery can cause scarring or you might have pain after your operation. Talk to your doctor or nurse if pain is a problem. There are lots of things they can do to help. These include changing your pain medicines or supporting you with relaxation techniques.

Relationships and sex

The physical and emotional changes you have might affect your relationships and sex life. There are things that you can do to manage this.

Coping practically

Practical things you and your family might need to cope with include:

  • money matters
  • financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants
  • work issues
  • childcare

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to find out who can help. Getting help early with these things can mean that they don’t become a big issue later.

Our coping practically section has more information about all these issues. 

Support groups

NHS Choices has a service that tells you about local information and support.

The British Lung Foundation can offer help and support. You can phone their helpline to talk to someone on 03000 030 555 from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

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