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Coping with Emotions When You Have Lung Cancer

“I am afraid you have lung cancer”. Your Doctor may say these words with ease, but hearing these words can shock you or anyone else. You may have many mixed feelings and emotions, or just feel numb. You may find it hard to believe this diagnosis and may have fears about the future or feel angry that this is happening to you. All of these reactions are normal when people find out they have cancer. 

Doctors and nurses are aware of this and they recognize that helping you cope with your feelings is an important part of your care. During this period, just after your diagnosis, it may help if you can gather information at a pace you can deal with. People often feel, at this stage, they can only take one day at a time. However, if you know what to expect, this can help to reduce uncertainty and anxiety. You, and those close to you, can talk about what you need to know and then plan how to find out this information.

Difficult emotions

People with lung cancer can sometimes think that they caused their disease and feel guilty. Awareness of the link between certain types of lung cancer and smoking can make this feeling even stronger in those who were smokers. Worrying about what other people may think can make it hard for you to talk about your cancer or ask for help, contributing to a sense of isolation. 

However, sharing your thoughts and emotions will help you to manage feelings of guilt, isolation and loneliness. Your family may also be struggling with similar ideas and emotions. It helps to keep this in mind, as there may be tensions that increase the stress on everyone close to you. This is a difficult period, which demands patience and tolerance by all those affected.

Feeling of isolation

Cancer can bring a shock to anybody, especially to those who are young and healthy. You may get afraid of ‘what if’ and may stop talking to people around about your feelings. You may feel as if you are different from everyone else and no one would understand what you are going through.

While the latter part may be true, there are various ways to solve this problem. Some of them are:

  • Talk to someone who is close to you; they may understand your situation and may be able to sympathise with you.
  • Write your feelings in a diary, this will not only help you vent your thoughts, but also you can go back and track your thoughts/mental health.
  • Find cancer organisations where you can talk to more cancer patients.
  • Find time for daily walk, preferably in nature.
  • Try meditation; it will help you release anxiety and feel calm.

Emotions and treatment 

It’s normal to have strong emotions about cancer treatment. You might be afraid of the side effects or angry that you have to go through treatment and it can also be tough to not know what will happen next. It might help to: 

  • Talk to your cancer team, your family, or a counsellor who specialises in helping cancer patients and their families with the fears, depression, anxiety or other challenges of cancer 
  • Engage with people in cancer support groups. 
  • Writing in a diary keeping your treatment goals in mind. 
  • Use a pill box to make it easier for you to manage your treatment Quick tip: Distraction can be a good coping technique. 

Try to find something that takes your mind off your health problems, even if just for a while. Sometimes chemotherapy, other medicines or the disease itself can cause confusion or emotional problems. Make sure that you talk to your medical team about any feelings you have about treatment or any problems that you are experiencing.

Getting emotional support and help 

It’s very common for people with lung cancer to suffer from emotional distress. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and afraid, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or lung specialist nurse. Sometimes your cancer or your treatment can be a physical cause of emotional problems, and your doctor can help to correct this. 

They might also prescribe medicines to help with emotional problems. Often, what you really need is someone to talk to and give you support while you think things out. Your doctor can refer you to a service which provides psychological care and support. This can happen one-to-one, as a family, or in a group of people. Another popular type of support is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This approach helps you understand how the way you think can affect the way you feel.

  • Try this relaxation technique to let go of any stress you may have:
  • Sit comfortably, somewhere quiet 
  • Close your eyes and decide to “let go of any thoughts” 
  • Breathe deeply and slowly 
  • Mentally go through each part of your body, and release all muscle tension. Start with your head and work all the way down to your toes 
  • When all of the tension is gone, continue to breathe slowly with your eyes closed. Once you get used to this, you will be able to relax more easily and quickly.


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