Supporting Lung Cancer With Compassion And Empathy

When someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer, it is a life-shattering moment for all. The signs and symptoms of lung cancer can sometimes be challenging. But, lung cancer which gets diagnosed at a much later stage altogether knocks one’s world down. It can impact your life and relationship with near and dear ones as the caregiving responsibility begins.

Lung cancer is especially dangerous as it interferes with the breathing system. Shortness of breath is accompanied by sputum in blood, headaches, nausea and overall dullness due to lack of oxygen supply in the body. This can, many times, land the patient in the ICU.Though caregiving is a rewarding experience, it can take a toll on both the patient and the caregiver.

A lung cancer patient’s life has many ups and downs due to symptoms, treatments and emotions and that ends up running the caregiver’s life too. In some cases, the relationship between the patient and caregiving may have been confrontational since the beginning and it gets amplified during caregiving. As soon as a person is diagnosed with lung cancer, caregivers are suddenly overloaded with tasks like taking care of medications, fixing doctors’ appointment,  keeping updated on the treatment plan, besides managing the side effects which comes with chemotherapies. The therapy days can be troublesome as the health of the care receiver is severely affected. Performing so many tasks all of a sudden and all at once may leave them tired, helpless, isolated which may lead to frustration, anxiety and anger.

Thus, the caregiver may bottle up their feelings and stay quiet which might again build up a lot of frustration in them and sometimes, they do not know who to talk to. They can go to secure places like support groups to vent out their feelings, share thoughts about their helplessness to feel a little better and find solutions for the caregiving role.

Stigma for lung cancer in society

There is a stigma associated with lung cancer and overcoming this prejudice is important for both the caregivers’ and the care receivers’ mental peace.There is a preconceived notion that smoking is the primary cause and hence a moral judgement of character with a tendency to say it was their own fault.Many times the cancer patient may blame themselves for bringing cancer due to his history of smoking which can be hurtful to him not only mentally but also physically.

According to data, smoking is not the only cause of lung cancer. If a person smokes,s/he has 15% chances of smoking, and if s/he quits, there is a 10% risk of getting lung cancer. In any case, avoid blaming the patient as smoking habits are not the only reason for cancer.

The care receiver can take a stand to talk to an oncology social worker who can work on ways to deal with this stigma as this can take a toll on the entire family.

Blame and Guilt Game in Lung Cancer Caregiving

With smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke being one of the primary reasons for lung cancer, people often start blaming the patient for lung cancer. Continuously taunting them with “I told you to quit smoking long back” will not do any good to anyone. It is useful to understand some of the triggers and psychological trauma that started smoking and helped sustain the dependence. This would help in not only building empathy but also helping work through those issues.

Many times, the blame can cloud the caregiver’s focus on what can actually be done to combat the current scenario. One of the best things to do is to look inward into yourself, and see what can be done with those feelings, normalize them and move forward. Since it’s easier said than done, one can consult a therapist if required, rather than continuing life with feelings of blame or guilt.

Sometimes, your relationship with the person changes when they are dealing with cancer. Hence, looking after the needs of the relationship is also critical, it can be challenging but one can get through it.

Loss of Control

The patient and caregiver’s life changes 180 degrees overnight, and it’s excruciating to see someone suffering where one can do nothing about it. Lung cancer, being diagnosed in the later stages, there is nothing much to be done in terms of causes or risk factors. This leads to a sense of loss of power and makes the caregivers even feel helpless, though the focus needs to be on areas where they can actually do something for their loved ones suffering to reduce.

For instance, continuous coughing interferes with food or drinking water and sometimes can convert into vomiting. With a pat on the back or slight massage, a caregiver can provide small relief to the patientIn such areas, the caregivers can help manage some of the outcomes of their illness. One must start looking for those areas where they can have the power, which can also become self-care for them as opposed to helplessness.

Listening to their Agony with all your Heart

Cancer treatments are not easy to deal with and have multiple physical and emotional side effects which need to be understood and empathised with. Other lifestyle changes are also tough for example, if the cancer patient has been on nicotine for a long time, then the nicotine withdrawals can be another big challenge The agony of lung cancer, combined with withdrawal and stress, can make the patient emotionally distressed. Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) helps reduce cravings so that one can focus on the psychological aspects of quitting. All this makes building compassion and empathy a critical part of the caregiving toolkit.

The Ring Theory – Give up that Mask that “I am Okay”

Caregivers always want to look brave and constantly want to protect their loved one from anything which can affect them and become a concern of worry. Many times, such anxiety-provoking conversation about degrading health are avoided by the caregivers since all will not be well. Facing the reality together, about the degrading health can help in understanding the implications and better acceptance of the harsh truth. This makes both the caregiver and care-reciever feel connected and thus develop a more intimate bond.

Caregivers can swear by the ring theory  which talks about removing the“I am brave, or I am Okay” mask with the people who are not closely related to the patient. There are two types of people in caregivers life those closely affected by the patient’s health (The Inner Circle) and those who are not much affected (The Outer Circle)

Caregivers can always look upon the outer circle when they want to vent out their feelings and feel comfortable. Caregivers must not think twice when it comes to their well-being.The ring theory works in all aspects of life like legal, financial, health etc. which comprise the elements of well-being(As defined by Caregiver Saathi). As a caregiver, a well-balanced diet with sound sleep and sometime for exercising is recommended. Also, simple leisure activities such as brisk walking, reading a book over a cup of coffee, listening to music or a movie can help in beating the stress. It is all about balancing your holistic well-being along with that of the care receiver.

It need not be a lonely battle

Many times, people hide about the condition and try to make it look like all is okay to the world, which is not a good practice.Realistically, at least when the health of the person starts degrading and getting worse, it is time to seek out for more help from friends and family.

Caregivers should not pressurize themselves by handling all the caregiving tasks alone, especially when it is just not possible to do so and personal time off is needed.

A caregiver can always get help through counselling,  support groups (learn from experiences of other caregivers, share emotions etc.)and technology tools (Websites, Caregiver Saathi App), which help in combating the challenges faced by caregivers. Start looking for the kind of support you need.

When you want their suffering to end

As harsh as it may sound, but in the last stages, caregivers wish that the patient’s pain end as it is too overwhelming to see them suffer.

This anticipatory grief can push them to blame the patients and also affects the relationship with self and damages the ability to be available for other roles and relationships.

Instead, try to talk to them about the good old memories and seek forgiveness for any past or current conflicts. It does not matter what the cause,avoid blaming and help ensure that the patient forgives themselves too. Caregivers can talk to the support groups and therapist for mental relief as a lot of stress and resentment starts building up when the cancer is worsening.This would be useful for caregivers to deal with grief, accept the eventuality and rehabilitate themselves.

About The Author

Akansha Dalmia

I always work on a belief that “Always be in action”. I am a M.Sc food
technologist and a writer by passion today. My flair in writing allows
me to share the learning experience in different niches. I have always
been appreciated for strong administrative and leadership skills. I
would hesitate to say this has me a successful writer for many Indian
celebrities and top-notch brands. Furthermore, I am unstoppable to add
more feathers to my hat.



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