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Newly Diagnosed With Lung Cancer

First Steps for People Newly Diagnosed With Lung Cancer

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Updated July 14, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

When you are newly diagnosed with lung cancer, you may experience a gamut of emotions –- anger, fear, confusion, loneliness, and more. Not to mention the questions -- what about my family, can I afford this, will I survive? On top of this, you are being called on to make important decisions about your medical care. So what are the first steps you should take when you are newly diagnosed with lung cancer?

Take a Moment to Breathe

When you are first diagnosed, you may feel completely overwhelmed. So many decisions to make and so little time to do everything you need to prepare for treatment. But chances are the cancer you are now facing took a long time to develop. Try to stop for a minute and just breathe. This exercise takes only a minute or two, and can work even if you are finding it hard to concentrate on anything.

Express Your Emotions

Now is not the time to be the “strong one.” Find people in your life that you feel safe expressing your emotions to, and vent. It's okay to be angry. Nobody deserves to have cancer. It's okay to admit that you are afraid. Lung cancer is a scary disease. If you smoked in the past, it's okay to express feelings of guilt. It's okay to express disappointment when friends you thought would be there for you fail you. It's okay to admit that insensitive remarks from otherwise well-meaning people, such as “I didn’t know you smoked,” are painful. Some people find it helpful to start a journal to sort through their feelings.

Evaluate Your Support System

Think about the role your loved ones can play in your upcoming treatment. Who will be your advocates? Who will accompany you to visits? Who can keep your loved ones informed or update a site such as Caring Bridge?

Not everyone is comfortable around hospitals. Do you have friends that are doctor/hospital phobic, but would love to help prepare meals for you? If your loved ones have not been around anyone with cancer, they might be at a loss to know how to help. Here are a few ideas you can pass on if needed:

It can be helpful to note that many people are surprised to find that friends they thought would “be there” for them vanish, yet others seem to come out of the wood work. Everyone copes with illness in a different way, based on their experiences in the past and their own personality.

Choose a Health Care Team

Choosing the right doctor and the right cancer center is a very important early step. In making your decision, you will need to consider not only the services provided, but location and insurance issues as well. Are you willing to travel? Is it important to be near family?

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has a list of NCI-designated cancer centers if you aren’t sure where to begin.

Consider a Second Opinion

Sometimes people feel they are “betraying” their doctor if they ask for a second opinion. But with an illness like cancer, physicians usually expect that you will want a second opinion. And perhaps a third or fourth opinion. If you are still hesitant, understand that if your doctor was faced with a similar diagnosis, she would likely seek out several opinions as well.

Keep Copies of Your Medical Records

One of the more frustrating problems people may encounter after a diagnosis of lung cancer is to arrive for an appointment and find out the doctor does not have all of the information. Ask for copies of your records after each visit. Start a file that you can bring with you to visits.

Check Out Lung Cancer Support Groups

No matter how supportive your loved ones are, talking to others who have faced a similar situation can be a great source of support and information. Many hospitals and communities have cancer support groups, and online support groups are available as well.

Understand Your Health Insurance

Before starting treatment, it can be helpful to look at your insurance policy and call your insurance company with any questions. Is the doctor you wish to see in your plan? What is the arrangement for coverage outside of your network?

Learn as Much as You Can About Your Diagnosis

Studies suggest that learning as much as you can about your diagnosis is helpful for people with cancer. Ask questions. Look for credible health information online.

Consider a Palliative Care Consult

Before you panic, please know that palliative care is not the same as hospice. Palliative care is care designed to improve your physical and emotional comfort during cancer treatment. In this setting, a 2010 study demonstrated that people with lung cancer who chose palliative care along with conventional treatment actually lived longer than those who had conventional treatment alone. Many hospitals throughout the country now offer palliative care along with conventional care for people diagnosed with lung cancer.

Pick Your Battles –- Be Kind to Yourself and Simplify

One of the best bits of advice one of my loved ones was given after a diagnosis of cancer was to “baby” herself. Put away your “should do, could do, would do” lists and simply take care of yourself at this time. Soak in a tub. Leave the clutter and take a gentle walk. Let people help. You are worth it!

Sources:

Gabrijel, S. et al. Receiving the Diagnosis of Lung Cancer: Patient Recall of Information and Satisfaction With Physician Communication. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2008. 26(2):297-302.

Hill, K. et al. Do newly diagnosed lung cancer patients feel their concerns are being met?. European Journal of Cancer Care. 2003. 12(1):35-45.

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