1st November 2019

Things to say and do (and avoid!) when supporting someone with lung cancer

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As part of our Follow my Lead campaign for Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we asked people living with lung cancer:

What advice would you give someone whose loved one has been diagnosed with lung cancer?

Nick says: Do treat them like the same person

We know cancer is HUGE and it’s hard not to make reference to it, but so many of the people we speak to just want to be treated normally.

Michela says: Don’t be over dramatic, and don’t catastrophise

Being told you have lung cancer is terrifying and the person living with it will, obviously, be scared and anxious. But they don’t need to constantly hear how terrible it is. They need realism, encouragement, support and normality.

Jane says: Do keep your head upright!

Sometimes a ‘how are you’ is now said with a head tilt and then followed up with a ‘but really how are you’. This can get be a little bit frustrating when you have already said ‘you’re fine’.

Pete says: Don’t google

The internet is a wonderful thing but when you or a loved one is diagnosed with lung cancer, it is not your friend.

If you or a loved ones has been diagnosed with lung cancer, don’t google!

Every lung cancer diagnosis is different and a lot of the information on the internet is too generalised. It does not take into account the type of lung cancer, the specific treatment or, your general health. What worked for one person, doesn’t necessarily work for another and visa versa.

Instead of googling, use reputable sites and, if you have any questions, speak to your multi-disciplinary team (MDT) or call our Ask the Nurse service on 0800 358 7200.

Harriet says: Do stuff for them without them having to ask

Nobody wants to be a burden so if you want to show you care, turn up with dinner so they don’t have to cook.

Offer to take them to appointments, or to pick up their kids from school. If they have a dog, take it for a walk.

Or you could cut the lawn, water the plants, do their ironing – anything to make their life easier.

Ruthra says: Don’t roll out the clichés

General phrases are sometimes not welcome. People are individuals and don’t want to be labelled by cancer. Everyone’s story is different.

Andy says: Do talk to them

It is difficult to know what to say to someone but something (within reason) is better than nothing. I am living with cancer or am a cancer patient, but I am not a warrior. I am surviving cancer but not a cancer survivor. But I prefer the people who are brave enough to speak to me, even if they say words I don’t like, than the people who avoid me!

Sue says: Don’t make plans without consulting them

But do still make plans! People with lung cancer tend to live in 3 to 4-month blocks, in between scans, so avoid planning too far in the future. But always ask and never presume they won’t want to be included.

Faye says: Do talk about what’s going on with you – good and bad

Don’t let lung cancer stop you from sharing things with your loved ones

Friends are sometimes less likely to tell me their problems, feeling like their troubles are nothing compared to mine. But if that was the case, nobody would confide anything in me. I still want to be a friend to people.

Sally says: Don’t ask too many questions

It’s important to let people talk at their own pace. Many people who completed our survey said they didn’t want to be reminded that they are ill. This can be quite distressing. Let them know you’re hear if and when they want to talk and then move on to a lighter topic of conversation.

Sophie says: Don’t pressurise people to be positive

People often try and be as positive as possible, but it can be exhausting to pretend we’re ok when we’re not ok. Cancer is brutal and it’s ok not to be ok, to want to scream, or shout, or cry.

I remember sitting in the oncology waiting room, waiting for radiotherapy to my C3 vertebrae. I started crying and the nurse came running over and asked ‘What’s going on? Are you ok?’ I looked around the room and I said ‘I think I’m the only one here who is ok’ because I was crying. Why would you not be crying at this point in time?

Andy says: Do take each day as it comes

Every day is different when you’re dealing with lung cancer. Try and help them enjoy each day but let them know it’s ok if one day isn’t too bright. Just try and make the good days outnumber the bad.

Marion says: Don’t be over helpful or pushy

We know you are just trying to help but, if someone says they are ok, that they can manage, take them at their word. Make sure they know that you are hear if and when they need something. Also, if you send them a message, let them know it’s ok if they don’t reply. It can be a tiring chore if you feel like you need to respond to everyone.

Peter says: Do stay the distance

When someone is first diagnosed, everyone naturally rallies round to show their support. However, as time goes on, support can slip. Make sure you’re always there in whatever way they need you to be. Everyone will be affected differently, and at different points in time. They might need space in the beginning to get their head round it, but then need support around treatment or scan time.