If someone you love has a lung cancer diagnosis, you may want to do everything you can to help out. But taking on the role of caregiver isn’t easy.
People with lung cancer turn to their caregivers for a variety of types of support, from practical needs (like driving to doctor appointments and handling health insurance issues) to providing emotional encouragement.
As rewarding as being a caregiver might be, it can also be exhausting. It’s important to understand what the role involves and how to prevent burnout. Keep reading for tips on what to expect and how to maintain your own well-being.
It’s natural to want to read everything you can find about lung cancer after a loved one finds out about their condition. While understanding the disease and its treatment options is an important part of being a caregiver, try to avoid information overload.
Poring over lung cancer statistics can make you feel anxious and depressed. What’s more, it may also leave the person you’re caring for in a worse emotional state.
Instead, focus on the outlook of the person as an individual. Survival rates and other statistics look at large numbers of people with lung cancer and don’t tell the story of what will happen to one person, including your loved one. Plus, a person’s outlook can change significantly if they enroll in a clinical trial or a new treatment is approved.
Rely on your loved one’s healthcare team to answer specific questions about their lung cancer or outlook.
One of the challenges of coping with lung cancer is the stigma that comes with having the disease. A survey from the Mesothelioma Center found that 12 percent of Americans blame people with lung cancer for getting the disease. Research shows that
Even caregivers may need to overcome this stigma and act as an advocate for their loved one. The American Lung Association recommends avoiding an overemphasis on whether your loved one is or was a smoker.
If someone asks whether the person with lung cancer ever smoked, explain that it might be hurtful to ask that question. Gently remind people that lung cancer doesn’t only affect people with a history of smoking to help bring greater awareness about the disease.
Close relatives may also cause a person with lung cancer to feel guilty about their disease, even if they don’t intend to. Meeting with an oncology social worker can help resolve some of these issues and provide ways for you to work through complex emotions as a caregiver.
Finally, the person you’re caring for may also cope with feelings of regret, according to CancerCare. They may feel like they deserve the disease and start engaging in self-destructive behaviors, like not adhering to their doctors’ recommendations. If this happens to your loved one, talk to their healthcare team about ways to get additional support.
The well-being of someone with lung cancer depends on reliable support from a caregiver. You’ll play the dual role of home health aide and companion.
According to the Irish Cancer Society’s guide to “Caring for Someone with Lung Cancer,” you’ll need to provide a mix of medical care, practical care, and emotional care.
As a caregiver for someone with lung cancer, you may be responsible for helping with basic medical care. This can include:
- giving medications
- helping manage side effects
- going to doctor’s appointments with your loved one
- communicating with the medical team
- keeping a contact list of who to call in an emergency
- helping bathe and dress your loved one
- participating in palliative care needs
Everyday tasks can be overwhelming for someone undergoing treatment or coping with advanced lung cancer. They may turn to you for support for practical care needs, including:
- grocery shopping
- preparing meals
- tidying their home
- driving to and from medical appointments
- doing the laundry
- making bill payments
- dealing with health insurance
- tackling financial issues
Providing emotional support to a loved one with lung cancer can be among the most challenging parts of caregiving. You may need to face uncertainty together while trying to remain hopeful.
Practice active listening skills while your loved one talks about their disease. While it’s natural to want to find solutions to their problems, keep in mind that you can’t change the current circumstances. Instead, listen to them express themselves and help them accept their illness. This is one of the best ways you can provide emotional support.
Everyone copes with cancer differently. It’s normal for your loved one to have emotional ups and downs throughout the course of their disease. As a caregiver, try not to change their emotions. Accept how they feel on a day-to-day basis.
Taking care of someone with lung cancer can be physically and emotionally exhausting, especially if you also have to balance your caregiving duties with work, chores around your own home, and raising children. It’s important to remember to take time to recharge every day so that you don’t burn out.
Joining a caregiver support group can give you the opportunity to talk to other people in similar situations. Counseling can also be a helpful way to learn strategies for coping with stress and loneliness, staying organized, managing practical concerns, and finding the right words to talk about your experience with your loved one.
Try to make your health a priority, as well. Stay active by squeezing in a 30-minute walk to help maintain your fitness. Prepare healthy foods and cut back on alcohol use. Practice sleep hygiene so you can get a good night’s rest. If you’re not feeling your best, talk to your doctor about possible adjustments that you can make.
A variety of other self-care activities can also prove restorative for caregivers. Consider trying yoga and meditation. Set aside time for your favorite hobbies, like cycling, making art, cooking, or gardening. Making time for the things you enjoy can help reduce your overall stress.
Finally, be gentle with yourself. Being a caregiver can be a difficult job. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable emotions, like guilt, anger, and sadness. Ask for help when you need it and take things day by day.
Caring for a loved one with lung cancer can be equally rewarding and challenging. You’ll have many responsibilities, ranging from at-home medical care and practical care to providing emotional support. You may also face stigma from other people because of the association lung cancer has with smoking.
Taking time for yourself can help you avoid caregiver burnout. Prioritize your health and well-being every day. Joining a caregiver support group or talking to a counselor can also help you find ways to cope.