Expert shares 7 mental health tips to cope with a lung cancer diagnosis

Expert shares 7 mental health tips to cope with a lung cancer diagnosis

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The breath governs our well-being. The breath is so key to our existence and overall wellbeing that in Sanskrit it is called the Praan (life). That is why when your breathing becomes a battle, you feel anxious, choked, and afraid.

Now think of the lung cancer patients. First of all, the very word "Lung cancer" has brought their world crashing around them. The diagnosis has a huge impact on your physical wellbeing, but receiving a diagnosis may also profoundly affect your mental health, says Sarah Handzel (BSN, RN) on

Sarah has been writing professionally since 2016, but her connection with the medical profession is older. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and worked as a registered nurse in multiple specialities, including pharmaceuticals, operating room/surgery, endocrinology, and family practice.

"It’s very common to experience anxiety or depression immediately after a cancer diagnosis and throughout the treatment course. In fact, as many as one out of every four people with cancer also deal with symptoms of depression during their cancer journey," writes Sarah Handzel.

No more do doctors address your cancer treatment alone. Nowadays, doctors - especially oncologists realise the importance of the patient's overall wellbeing and the big help a strong mind can be of in the recovery of the patient. That is why most doctors incorporate the management of your depression and anxiety alongside the treatment through medicines.

Why you must actively focus on mental wellbeing:

"Putting on a face and acting like everything is normal can actually make mental health problems worse. Eventually, these problems may even affect your ability to continue your cancer treatments. If you struggle to manage your mental health while dealing with cancer, speak with your doctor about possible treatment options," advises Sarah Handzel.

Don't think feeling sad or grief-stricken is shameful:

Some distress is normal, says Handzel. The patient undergoes several layers of emotions. On the one hand, there is the shock of the diagnosis. Fear, uncertainty about the future, and anxiety about the treatment and recovery - are all a type of psychological distress that are completely normal. Just be careful that they do not reach a level where the distress interferes with your ability to perform daily activities.

Lung cancer and depression may go hand-in-hand as one struggles to come to terms with the haziness of what lies ahead, the sudden change to one's dreams that one held close to the heart for years, etc.

Why it is important to keep the patient's spirits lifted:

In a first study that has examined how the trajectory of depressive symptoms affects survival in lung cancer patients, the lead author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University - Barbara Andersen - says, “Previous studies have just looked at depression at the time of diagnosis and shortly thereafter to predict survival. But this study shows that what happens to depression levels after diagnosis and in the months thereafter is key to understanding how depression relates to premature death.”

The good news, Andersen said, is that most patients showed decreases in symptoms of depression after diagnosis as they were tested every one to two months. But those who didn’t, and who had the most severe depressive symptoms, were likely to die earlier.

When to see the doctor:

If you feel any of the symptoms below, you must speak to your caregiver health team, or your doctor about the same.

  • Uncontrolled train of worrisome thoughts
  • Inability to focus or resolve problems
  • Unexplained anger or irritability
  • Long-term feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Changes to sleep patterns or your weight
  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness) or loss of energy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plans or attempts

Tips to cope with a lung cancer diagnosis:

Sarah Handzel lists the following steps as ways to handle the mental well-being of a lung cancer patient.

  1. Body temple - keep it healthy: Eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise can help boost your energy levels as well as your emotions. Eating food packed with nutrition can prime your body for a better fight against lung cancer. Take awe walks daily. These small excursions can get you out in the sunshine and help clear your mind.
  2. It's okay to grieve: It is natural to feel like life betrayed you, why you, etc. Your best laid out plans must now face alteration. Live the change. Even welcome it. Take time to grieve, but remember you still have a life ahead of you.
  3. Do not bottle up emotions: Many cancer survivors swear by the therapeutic value of a journal, or of being able to spell out their fears or worries. Not letting your emotions flow may worsen any anxiety or depression you feel. Talk to your family, friends, and your treatment team. You can keep an electronic journal of audio, and video inputs. All this may allow you insights into your experience and thoughts.
  4. Follow your treatment plan: The fear of what lies ahead, a sense of depression - all of this can derail your treatment as you may fall behind on the prescribed treatment. Remember, that is sacrosanct. Do not skip a doctor's appointment. Skip no medicines or sessions. That is key to your recovery, faster recovery.
  5. Keep up relationships: Maintaining an active social life with family and friends can help keep you positive and focused on the future. Your relationships help you develop memories while you enjoy living your life.
  6. Let your doctor know: The doctor may then help you manage your mental situation through therapy, medicines, etc. if necessary. If you’ve tried to manage your situation on your own and still feel anxious or depressed, your doctor can help you find help to bring you relief or refer you to a mental health therapist.
  7. Join a support group: When fellow sufferers narrate their struggles, victories, and concerns, one feels a lot unburdened. Consider joining a support group—there’s no shame in asking for help! There are support groups also for different types of cancer. Find the one that makes you feel comfortable.

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purposes only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.

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