10 Things to Stop Doing If You Have Lung Cancer

Three friends sitting on couch talking together

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There are so many things we’re told to do if we have cancer, yet there are also things we shouldn’t be doing. Things to stop doing, such as trying to stop going it alone, trying to stop saying you don't need help, and much more can lighten your load rather than add to it.

Don’t worry. This isn’t a list of things to add to your “should have/could have/would have” lists that make you feel crazy. In fact, most people will be pleasantly surprised by some of the things that you should stop doing if you have lung cancer. Many people only think of things after they've been living with cancer a long time (and looking back, want to share with others). Take a moment to recognize these things at the beginning of your journey, instead.

1. Stop Trying to Go It Alone

None of us wish to drag our loved ones with us into a situation like cancer. We want to spare them the roller coaster ride. We have no choice but to take this journey ourselves, and we feel guilty imposing that journey on others. But that is the voice of our ego speaking. People want to help. People want to be with us. And not only is that their desire, but their lives can be enriched by sharing our journey.

Another way to look at accepting help from your loved ones is to realize that accepting their help is a way of honoring those people who want to be near you. If you don’t let them play a part, you are denying them the opportunity to experience not just the lows that go with treatment, but the highs that can only be experienced fully if you’ve been there for the lows. Open your heart and mind to let people take this journey with you.

We can look at this from another angle as well. One of the biggest "complaints" from loved ones of those with cancer is the feeling of helplessness. By allowing people to help, you can actually help them cope with this feeling!

All of that said, it takes a village to help someone with cancer, and one friend or spouse can’t do it alone. In addition to that, there are things that only someone who has “been there” can truly understand. Finding a support group and reading the stories of others who have lived with lung cancer is a good start.

2. Stop Tolerating Pain

Pain not only affects us physically but can lay a shadow over everything we say and do. The physical pain of cancer affects our whole being, body, mind, and spirit. Amidst that shadow, we are often called upon to make serious decisions about our medical care. It’s hard enough facing those decisions and discussing them with loved ones when we are pain-free. Throwing pain into the equation can make a difficult situation seem insurmountable at times.

But you don’t have to live in pain. Many people who are tolerating pain are living that way because they didn’t ask—or ask again—for help. Your oncologist wants you to talk about your pain and wants you to be comfortable. A common concern is that using pain medications can result in addiction but in the setting of cancer that is actually very rare. More and more studies are showing that the total amount of pain medication used often ends up being less when people stay on top of their pain. Another common concern is that if people use pain medication now, there won't be any options left if pain becomes worse in the future. This is rarely a concern, and there are many options available for pain control.

3. Stop Thinking Your Doctor Knows Everything

In this day and age getting a second opinion (or a third, or a fourth) when you have cancer is the rule, not the exception. Just as you may interview several painters in order to choose the one you feel would do the best job, you may need to “interview” several physicians/cancer centers in order to select the one that you feel the most comfortable with.

And after you’ve carefully picked the physician/cancer center that fits your personal needs, don’t be afraid to ask questions. The sheer amount of information on cancer that is coming out every day makes it impossible for any one person to stay on top of everything. Ask your physician questions, and don’t be afraid to ask her to ask questions as well.

4. Stop Being Embarrassed by the Stigma

Lung cancer carries more than one stigma. One is the stigma of smoking. There is an unspoken feeling among the public that somehow people who develop lung cancer “deserve” it because they smoked. The other is the stigma about survival. Lung cancer is equated with a death sentence to many people.

Living with lung cancer you’ve likely heard some of the comments and questions. “How long did you smoke?” “Don’t you wish you would have quit smoking earlier?” “My neighbor had lung cancer and he died.”

We’re not going to change the world, but it can help to plan ahead and think about how you will respond to these questions and comments so they don’t drag you down. Don’t be embarrassed and fall into the trap of feeling that you deserve to have lung cancer. Nobody deserves cancer.

How might you respond graciously when someone makes an insensitive comment?

You may consider saying, “yes, I smoked, but there are many causes of lung cancer and smoking is only one." Or instead, “I’m one of the people who got lung cancer but never smoked, and that's actually very common. Perhaps you can be part of the effort to eliminate the stigma.” And, with those dreaded comments about the survival rate, a simple comment stating that you plan on beating this disease and could use support and positive comments should suffice.

Since your goal is to focus on your treatment, it is sometimes best to delegate dealing with these comments to a loved one. Who do you know that is tactful and can deflect insensitive remarks in a kind and thoughtful way?

5. Stop “Not Claiming” Assistance

We are living in an economic time when it is challenging enough for people without cancer. Add to that the costs of cancer treatment and perhaps a reduced or inability to work full time and the results can be heart-wrenching. But help is available. Just don’t be afraid to ask for it.

We know it’s hard to accept assistance, especially if you’ve been independent and you are the one who is usually assisting others. But allowing your friend, or a relief agency, or a non-profit to help now is one way of getting you healthy and on your feet enough so that you can return to your generous self when you’re feeling better. And if not, does it really matter? Keep in mind that many of these non-profit organizations and government agencies were designed to help people who are facing exactly what you are facing. A major life crisis.

Finding assistance can be a challenge, and this is one area where you may wish to delegate the search to a friend that wants to help. Contacting a social worker at your cancer center is one step as well. If you're not finding enough help, perhaps a friend is willing to set up a fundraiser. This could be a live fundraiser or just an online GoFund me account. Being open to help, however, is the first step.

6. Stop Concentrating on the End of Treatment and Start Living Each Day

It’s easy to put your life on hold until treatments for cancer are done, but don’t wish away these moments. There are too many cancer survivors who look back at the time of their treatments and wish they hadn’t wished that time away. How often do you have the opportunity to experience the time and closeness with friends and loved ones that you do during cancer treatment?

Some people find it very helpful to keep a gratitude journal during treatment. Each day you can record (yes, sometimes it is difficult) positive experiences and areas of growth in your life. You may find journaling your cancer journey to be very therapeutic as well. By journaling, you're more likely to discover those "silver linings" along the way, rather than not seeing them for many months or even years. You may wish to begin by thinking of people you would never have met had you not had cancer. How have those people enriched your life?

7. Don’t Stress out Over the Little Things

This might be better worded to say “don’t stress out when other people stress out over the little things.” If cancer does one thing, it gives us a bigger picture as to what is really important in life. And in doing so, it’s hard to not get annoyed when your friends and loved ones complain about the “little things.” If you are fighting for your life and have to listen to someone complaining about finding a good parking spot, it can be downright maddening at times.

It may be helpful to remember that just as a parking spot seemed ever so important to another, your loved ones are likely equally as bewildered by many of the items on your “most important” list. Remembering that we are all different, and practicing forgiveness and tolerance towards both others and yourself can lighten your journey. And don't forget to incorporate a little humor along the way.

8. Stop Trying to Be Positive All the Time

We know that “the books say” that it’s important to be positive and optimistic when you have cancer. We're not denying that. Yet it’s also important to face our fears and struggles and take the time to grieve. Grieving might entail a loss of your independence, or your hair, or the loss of that magical thinking of immortality that we were blessed with as teens.

You don't have to have a positive attitude with cancer to survive. In contrast, holding in negative emotions can be damaging.

Take time to grieve. Let it all out with a good friend who understands the importance of “good grief” and won’t spend her time with you trying to “fix it.” This may require finding a friend who is comfortable with his or her own mortality. Take time to grieve, and then celebrate.

9. Stop Procrastinating and Complete Your Advance Directives

Advance directives are a legal document explaining what your wishes are for medical treatment (and more) should you be unable to speak for yourself.

Many people put off filling in the blanks on these forms, and if this is you, you're not alone in delaying the process as long as possible. But it is peaceful to know you have written down your thoughts. It might sound like a morbid process to do so. Some of the questions are pretty sterile and technical. “If your heart stops beating, would you like medical personnel to attempt to restart it?” But there is much more to advance directives, such as an opportunity to help your loved ones plan your memorial service at a time when their minds won't be thinking objectively.

And unlike that morbid sense, you would expect to come with filling out forms talking about a time when you may not be able to speak for yourself, many people find the process to be heart-warming—and even motivating. If you are writing about what you would wish for your children after you are gone, you may be prompted to think more about how to make that realization true today. And those random thoughts you will likely put in writing lest they be lost—priceless.

There are different types of advance directives. Find the type that best meets your own needs.

10. Don’t Stop Looking for Opportunities to See Hope in Your Life

Never lose hope. Hope doesn’t have to mean that you need to envision yourself as a 20-year-old running marathons. It doesn’t even have to mean that you will survive your cancer for a determined amount of time. It means that you always have something to look forward to. That may be on this planet or not. It may be in thinking of dreams for your great-grandchildren that you wouldn’t experience directly even if you lived to be 120. Don’t ever stop hoping.

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