I Was Diagnosed with Lung Cancer: What’s Next?

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“You have lung cancer.” If you or someone you love has heard those words from a physician, they probably still grip your heart, tighten your chest, and send a shiver down your spine. Those are not easy words to hear and perhaps your first thought was “death sentence.” At Heart ‘n Home Hospice & Palliative Care, we hope you or someone you love never hear those dreaded words. But if you do, please understand that help – and hope – are available for the asking and that instead of thinking “death sentence,” think “life affirming.”

According to the American Cancer Society (cancer.org), the most common type of lung cancer is non-small-cell, and the “subtypes” are squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. A study published in 2010 in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that “non-small-cell lung cancer patients who received palliative care lived an average of two months longer than those who received standard care,” and “patients receiving palliative care reported a higher quality of life through the final course of their illness.”

Our Heart ‘n Home team members including Physicians, RN Case Managers, Hospice CNAs, Medical Social Workers, Spiritual Care Providers, and Volunteers are experts in palliative care, also known as “pain management,” and we have learned a great deal from the lung cancer patients for whom we have been privileged to care. The conversations that sometimes arise turn into deep, philosophical, healing discussions. Sure, some of our lung cancer patients were smokers, many of whom have shared regret for that choice. However, others who never smoked question, often with anger, how they could have developed the disease that is now overpowering their life.

Recall the story of the late Dana Reeve, wife of the late actor Christopher Reeve. Dana never smoked a day in her life, yet she succumbed to lung cancer at age 44. Some speculated her disease was brought on by the stress of caring for Christopher for nearly 10 years after an accident left him paralyzed. Some cited genetics, while others believed it was brought on by secondhand smoke, as Dana was a cabaret singer for many years before smoking was banned in restaurants and nightclubs. Does it really matter? Probably not, but as human beings, the first question we typically ask is “Why?”

At Heart ‘n Home, we encourage our patients and their caregivers to express their thoughts and feelings and explore the “whys” of a lung cancer diagnosis. Those discussions are important because they lead to affirming life every day, every time.

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