Coping with a lung cancer diagnosis

Receiving a lung cancer diagnosis can be a deeply distressing event for you and your family. You may react in different ways and feel different emotions. Uncertainty about what is happening to you and what might happen can be very stressful. Other people with lung cancer have talked about feelings of numbness, disbelief, shock, extreme sadness, anger, guilt, feelings of helplessness and fear.

There is no ‘correct’ way to deal with a lung cancer diagnosis

In the early stages following your lung cancer diagnosis you may feel as though you can think of little else. Your sleep may be disturbed, and you may feel very anxious. You should not worry that you are not coping. These feelings are very normal and not signs of being unable to cope. It is entirely normal to experience a range of strong and sometimes uncontrollable emotions after a diagnosis.

Crying is a natural and reasonable reaction, so do allow yourself time to cry if you need to. It can help not to bottle up your fears and worries. Learning a relaxation technique can also be helpful as it can help you switch off your mind from worries. Releasing tension in your body can help calm your mind. While some people do cry, others don’t. Whatever way you handle this process is normal and right for you.

Positivity is important; but it’s also ok to cry, feel scared, angry or any other way you may feel. Don’t deny or pretend how you feel.

Sandra, living with lung cancer

Some people open up and share, others stay quiet and work things through in their own time. Don’t feel guilty if you think you aren’t “doing it right”. It can be all too easy to get caught up in just focusing on your illness and this can increase your worry.

Some people find distraction a good strategy and reading, watching a film or going for a meal helps them cope. If you struggle to do this on your own, tell your family and friends your plan and ask them to help. This may keep your mind on more positive things.

How will I adjust to having lung cancer?

In the days and weeks following your lung cancer diagnosis, as you start to come to terms with the news, it is usual for these reactions to start to settle, although this varies from person to person. Being able to talk openly about your thoughts and feelings with others such as family, friends, your doctor or lung cancer nurse specialist, can be very helpful.

Your family may also feel worried and uncertain. Talking and sharing your feelings can help. Getting support and help with practical tasks, such as housework and shopping, can reduce the pressure on you and make family feel like they are doing something useful.

Graham was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer in 2014

Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. My motto is ‘Keep on keeping on’. I now have that as a tattoo on my arm

Graham, living with lung cancer

What if I feel I can’t cope with my lung cancer diagnosis?

If your feelings and worries are interfering a lot with your day to day life and you are finding it difficult to cope, there are many professionals who can help. It may be worthwhile contacting your doctor or lung cancer nurse specialist, or a professional counsellor.

Having negative thoughts and beliefs about your health can be difficult and, in some cases, may lead to depression, anxiety and a loss of self-confidence. One way of dealing with this is to keep yourself involved in activities you enjoy, and which give you a sense of well-being.

How do I tell my children?

Talking to your children can be hard. It can be helpful to explain to children that it is normal for them to experience some strong emotions and it is important for them to discuss any worries with you openly.

Sometimes taking them to hospital visits and introducing them to staff can help reduce some of their fears.

Tom and his daughter Camille both took part in our #HeadHigh awareness campaign

Dad is spreading awareness to other people and trying to help. It makes me so proud. If I had to describe him in three words, they’d be smart, funny and selfless.

Camille, aged 15

There are several very useful books, which have been written specifically for children on the subject of illness in the family. A list of reading materials for children is available from Macmillan Cancer Support.

If your child is of school age it is a good idea to tell their school teacher. This will help with any emotional or behavioural problems. If you have concerns about how your child is reacting, it may be useful to discuss it with your lung cancer nurse specialist or GP. They can make recommendations or suggest referral to a social worker or child psychologist.

How will family members and friends cope with your lung cancer diagnosis?

Dealing with a lung cancer diagnosis involves not only coping with your own reactions but also the reactions of others around you.

Therefore, it is important to talk openly about your feelings and worries with people who can support you. Remember, whatever worries or anxieties you are experiencing; it is likely that your family and close friends are feeling them too.

Phoebe was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer in 2016
Phoebe was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer in 2016

The worst phone call I’ve ever made was to tell my mum my lung cancer was incurable. She was very positive and upbeat about it when I was completely falling apart, having been told you’re probably not going to see your children grow up.

Phoebe, living with lung cancer

You may find there are local support groups or a cancer centre where you can talk to others. There are also online forums and helpline services you can use. Some people find talking to someone else who has been in a similar situation can help.