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I Was Just Diagnosed With Lung Cancer, What Do I Do Now?

From the moment you are first told you have lung cancer, you and your family and friends will be shocked. It may feel as though life has been turned upside down. Fear of the unknown and uncertainty about the future can be very stressful for you and those closest to you.

This article is written by people who have lived though the experience and aims to address some of your initial thoughts and helps you realise that you are not alone and that help and support are easily at hand in Canada. We hope to point you in the correct direction to get suitable information and support.

Is This Really Happening to Me?

Many people find themselves looking for reasons to rationalise why they have cancer, "Why me?" There is no easy answer. The news of lung cancer may arrive as a bolt out of the blue, or you may have suspicions about symptoms for quite a while. Even so, the news can be devastating and can cause a range of emotion. These emotions may come to surface at different times in the days, weeks and months following your diagnosis.

Such emotions may include a period of despondence, denial, shock, despair, anger, guilt, feelings of helplessness and fear. For many, a diagnosis of lung cancer may mean that life will never be the same again. In the early stages following your diagnosis, it is not unusual to feel as though you can think of little else. You may also find that your sleep is disturbed and that you are very anxious about the future.

These feelings are very common when confronting crisis. They are not signs of being able to cope. It is entirely normal to experience a range of strong and what may seem uncontrollable emotions after diagnosis. There is no right or wrong way to feel but you shouldn’t add to your distress by feeling guilty about how you feel or about the diagnosis.

Try to accept that these reactions are normal. If you feel you need to, allow yourself the time to cry. This can often be a helpful way of dealing with bottled up emotions. Learning a relaxation technique can also be very helpful as it can help you switch off your mind from worries and also relax your body.

How Long Will It Take Me to Come to Terms With My Diagnosis?

In the days and weeks following diagnosis, as you start to come to terms with the news, it is usual these reactions to start to settle. This varies from person to person. It is important that you should not be afraid to discuss your feelings and ask for support if you feel you need it. Some people try to hide their feelings for fear of affecting others, however keeping feelings bottled up often allows things to seem much worse. Some people find that it is difficult to talk, at first, and need some time to sort things out in their minds. Being able to talk openly about your thoughts and feelings with friends, family, doctor, or nurse can be very helpful. Also getting support with practical tasks such as housework and shopping may also be useful to reduce some of the pressure you may be feeling.

If you feel you cannot cope with your diagnosis and your feelings and worries are interfering a lot with your day-to-day life, tell your doctor or nurse. There are many health care workers able to help with any problems you may be experiencing.

What Does the Future Hold?

Do not despair. Keep an open mind and positive attitude as often as you are able, especially while going through treatment. Tell your doctor if you any symptoms such as pain, sickness, or breathlessness are troubling you as these can often be controlled with treatments.

Some of the treatments may be unpleasant and at times you may wonder if the doctor’s know or care what’s happening. You may even find yourself losing some faith in the process. These unpleasant feelings tend to wear off and, thankfully, you will start to feel better both mentally and physically.

Keep in mind that after the first course of treatment you may not be cured of cancer and further treatment may be required. By this time you will understand more about your illness and this will hopefully help and encourage you to continue with the fight against lung cancer.

What Effect Will This Have on My Friends and Family?

They will be shocked by the news and they may even be afraid to talk to you about it.

Your relationships can change. Feelings of depression, irritability and short tempter can add to the stress of what you and your family are going through.

If still alive, parents are generally the most upset.

If you have children or grand children it may seem natural to protect them from the news. Even if they have not been told about the diagnosis, it is not unusual for children to know that something is wrong by the reactions in others.

Occasionally when children are not informed of the diagnosis directly, their imaginations can take over.

If you decide to tell young children about your diagnosis, avoid using medical jargon and provide information at a level they will understand. It is surprising how well some children cope with the news. However, others may need more time to come to terms with the new landscape. They will probably want to ask questions and it is best to provide honest answers.

Don’t deny your own feelings as those closest to you will respond to how you are coping generally.

It's very difficult to tell family that you have cancer. You know it's going to upset them, but I've found that in a way it's brought us closer together.

Will My Lung Cancer Be Cured?

Some people who get lung cancer can be cured, and, sadly, most cannot.

The answer is difficult and depends upon many factors, including these:

  • Your general health
  • How quickly you were diagnosed
  • The type of lung cancer (small or non-small cell)
  • How well your body responds to treatment
  • The extend of the spread

The real answer is nobody really knows. Remember that even if your cancer cannot be cured, you may be able to live with the disease and enjoy a good quality of life.

I was diagnosed with cancer twelve years ago and told that I probably had less than a year to live. Nobody knows for sure how long you've got.

Who Will Be Involved in My Treatment and Care?

A multi-disciplinary team made up of various health professionals should be involved in your care. The exact make up of this team will vary depending on where you are being treated, but will most often include a chest physician and either an oncologist (cancer doctor) or a thoracic surgeon.

Check that your doctor is a specialist in treating lung cancer. If the first hospital doctor you see does not refer you on to either a thoracic surgeon or an oncologist, then ask why. There may be valid reasons for this. For example, a thoracic surgeon may have already looked at your tests and decided that surgery is not possible.

Listen to your consultant and lung cancer nurse specialist, they have an in-depth knowledge of lung cancer and will help and guide you throughout your care.

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