It can be hard to know what to do next after receiving an advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) diagnosis.
Significant symptoms can affect your quality of life. You may feel overwhelmed with appointments and treatment options. The emotional challenges can take a toll.
Consider what’s most important to you right now. Do you want to feel more informed and be more involved in making medical decisions? Are you looking to improve your emotional well-being? Would you like to better manage your symptoms?
Whatever your needs and priorities, these tips can help you breathe easier and feel more in control of your health.
Learning more about your form of lung cancer may help you feel more in control. Testing can also help your doctor find potentially better treatments.
Lung cancer is classified based on type and stage. Tumors develop when the DNA in cells become damaged so that the cells no longer grow normally.
Biomarker testing involves taking a biopsy of a tumor to look for changes in its DNA. Doing so offers you detailed information about why the tumor is growing and what type of damage has occurred.
Targeted therapies are available for some types of DNA changes. They’re designed to specifically address genetic abnormalities in cancerous cells and avoid harming healthier cells. That means they tend to cause fewer side effects than other treatments.
Testing can also look at levels of a specific protein, such as PD-L1. This can help your doctor decide if immunotherapy might be right for you.
You’ll have many new appointments in your calendar for tests, treatments, procedures, and meetings with your healthcare team.
Your healthcare team will include a variety of medical professionals. Doctors who specialize in cancer are called oncologists. Nurses, social workers, pharmacists, and other medical professionals may also help you manage pain, symptoms, and your emotional health.
The following tips can help you make the most of your appointments:
- Schedule appointments during the time of day when you tend to feel your best.
- Write down your questions ahead of time so you won’t need to recall them in the appointment.
- Bring a family member or friend along who can be an extra set of ears and take notes for you.
Eating a variety of healthy foods helps keep your body strong to support treatments. But you may experience cancer symptoms or treatment side effects that make it hard to eat.
Feeling short of breath may make it difficult to prepare food. You may not have the energy to shop for groceries.
A registered dietitian can help you with these nutrition challenges and more. A dietitian who specializes in cancer nutrition may already work with your healthcare team. If not, ask your doctor for a recommendation.
Take care of your lungs by avoiding or reducing your exposure to smoke and chemicals. Here are some tips:
- If you smoke, it’s never too late to quit or cut back.
- If you live with people who smoke, ask them to avoid smoking around you.
- Do your best to avoid or reduce your exposure to chemicals and air pollution.
Breathing techniques can help you breathe better and manage stress and anxiety.
Diaphragmatic breathing strengthens the diaphragm. This large muscle is located under the lungs and controls breathing. When it’s stronger, you’ll be able to bring in more air using less energy.
Pursed lip breathing is another technique to conserve energy and regulate your breathing. It involves breathing out through your mouth with pursed lips, like you’re gently blowing out a candle.
Follow these steps to practice diaphragmatic breathing with pursed lips:
- Sit in an upright but comfortable position, or lie down on your back. Choose whatever position feels better for you.
- Place one hand flat on your chest and the other on your belly.
- As you breathe in through your nose, feel your belly rise as it fills with air.
- As you breathe out through pursed lips, feel your belly fall as the air leaves.
- Try to minimize movement in your chest.
- Continue breathing this way for several minutes, or until you’re feeling better.
It can take time to feel confident using these techniques. Make a point to practice them when your symptoms aren’t as bothersome so they feel more natural when you really need them.
Palliative care helps increase your quality of life at any stage in your cancer journey. You may benefit from palliative care even during active cancer treatment.
Palliative care focuses on addressing pain, managing symptoms, and increasing emotional well-being. It acknowledges the burden of cancer and helps lessen it. It can also provide support for your loved ones.
Caring for your emotional health is an important part of your well-being. Attending a support group for people with NSCLC or advanced cancer offers an opportunity to connect with others who are dealing with similar challenges.
Your support group may be facilitated by someone living with cancer or a healthcare provider. Hearing other people’s stories and sharing your own journey can be powerful.
It’s important to seek emotional support when you’re facing any major challenge. Working with a mental health professional can help you cope with advanced lung cancer.
A trained mental health professional can help you find ways to identify and manage difficult thoughts and feelings you may have.
Your cancer clinic may already work with a mental health professional. If not, ask your doctor for a recommendation.
Tasks like shopping, cleaning, and meal prep may be difficult or impossible right now. It’s OK to ask for help.
If family and friends have offered to help, consider making a list of things you need. People who care about you genuinely want to help, just like you’d want to help them.
Paid services may also be available in your area, such as:
- grocery delivery
- prepared meals
- nursing care
Think about the things that bring you joy and take your mind off everything else. This may mean spending time with loved ones. Or it may mean doing things you enjoy on your own.
Self-care is about purposefully fitting in things that feel good for you. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- spend time in nature
- journal your thoughts, feelings, or ideas
- read a book
- savor a favorite food
- listen to music
- be active in a way that feels good for your body
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed if you or a loved one has recently received a diagnosis of advanced lung cancer. Finding time to support your physical and emotional well-being is essential.
Breathing techniques, symptom management, and nurturing your mental health are just a few things that may help you breathe better with advanced lung cancer.