The impact of lung cancer

Dealing with negative attitudes to lung cancer

Many people with lung cancer, whether they smoked or not, can experience negative attitudes from others or in the media because lung cancer is so strongly linked to smoking. You may feel judged and blamed by others for your cancer. This can be hard to cope with especially if you're feeling unwell. It may increase stress and you may be less likely to talk about your diagnosis. Some people say they feel guilty and ashamed. This can lead to depression or anxiety and affect your quality of life.

If you're feeling this way, talk with people around you about how you're feeling or talk to a counsellor.

Phone the Cancer Information Helpline (0800 CANCER 226 237) for services in your area.

It may be helpful to read the following information:

  • Smoking is one of the most difficult addictions to conquer.
  • Some people are more at risk of getting lung cancer due to a faulty gene passed down through their family.
  • Other factors may cause lung cancer including air pollution, asbestos and second-hand smoke.
  • As many as 15 percent of people with lung cancer have never smoked.

Looking after yourself

Cancer can cause physical and emotional strain. Eating well, exercising and relaxing may help reduce stress and improve wellbeing. Addressing changes in your emotions and relationships early on is also very important.

For more information, read the Cancer Society's booklet Coping with Cancer, which is available from your local Cancer Society or from the nurses by phoning the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237).

Psychological, social and counselling support

When you're diagnosed with lung cancer, suddenly you're faced with decisions and emotions you never thought you would have to deal with. The thought of lung cancer is frightening in different ways. Your first thoughts may be:

  • How serious is this?
  • Am I going to die?
  • Will it be cured?
  • Will I be able to do the things I usually do?

In the time after diagnosis, you may experience many different feelings. Common reactions are anxiety or fear, sadness and, sometimes, anger. Such strong emotions can make you feel as if you're losing control of your emotions or your life. You may never have felt this way before and it can be overwhelming.

When you have lung cancer, you will have to deal with many things for the first time. No matter how you're feeling, support services are available to you. If you speak to your GP or medical team, they can refer you to someone such as a counsellor or psychologist who can help you manage these feelings.

A counsellor or psychologist:

  • encourages you to talk about any fears, worries or emotions you may be feeling
  • helps you to work through feelings of loss or grief
  • can help you and your partner with relationship issues
  • helps you resolve problems so that you can find more pleasure in your life
  • teaches you ways to handle any anxiety you have
  • may show you meditation or relaxation exercises to help ease physical and emotional pain
  • can help you to communicate better with your family.

To find a counsellor, contact your GP, your local Cancer Society or phone the nurses at the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237).

Social workers

Social workers are available to help support you and your family/whānau through the social and emotional changes a cancer diagnosis brings. If you don't already have a social worker, your hospital doctor or nurse can arrange a referral.

Social workers:

  • provide information and support to help you manage the impact your cancer may have on you and your family
  • help set up support services, including help at home (domestic assistance) and help with personal care, so you can stay independent at home
  • help with accommodation for you and your family/whānau if you need to travel away from home for treatment
  • help make travel arrangements if you are having treatment out of town
  • offer advice and information about financial support available
  • make referrals to other support agencies
  • take part in multidisciplinary meetings.

Cultural and spiritual support

Hospitals throughout New Zealand have trained health workers available to support your spiritual, cultural and advocacy needs and may include Māori and Pacific health workers who will work with you and your family/whānau. Hospital chaplains are available to people of all faiths and no faith and offer support through prayer and quiet reflection.

Community health workers based at your local marae or a community-based Pacific health service may be a good source of support. Talk with your health care team about services available to you and your family/whānau.

Interpreting Service

If you do not speak English as your first language or you are deaf, you may find it helpful to use an interpreter when you have your hospital appointments. Speak to a member of your health care team about arranging interpreters in your local area.

For families/whanau

Lung cancer can affect your whole family. When a friend or family/whānau member is diagnosed with lung cancer you are also learning to cope with your own feelings and emotions. You may want to help but don't know what to do.

Here are some suggestions that may be useful:

  • Learn about lung cancer and its treatment. This will help you understand what the person you are supporting is facing. But be careful about offering advice.
  • Talk about your feelings together and be honest about what worries you.
  • Try not to worry about what to say. Often listening while they talk or just being there with them are good ways to show you care.
  • Offer to go to appointments with them as a support person. You can take part in the discussion, take notes or simply listen.
  • Respect that your family/whānau member or friend may want to talk to their doctor alone.
  • Don't try to do too much. Give the person the opportunity to do things for themselves—they will probably appreciate the chance to be useful.
  • Look after yourself and give yourself time to rest. Taking care of yourself will help you to take good care of them.
  • You may find that many people want to know about the health of your loved one. It may be useful to ask one person to be a spokesperson for your family, who will share this information with others. Or you may like to use email or text messaging, rather than talking to everyone yourself.
  • Accept that, sometimes, you will need help from others. Consider joining a local support group and don't be afraid to ask for help from other friends or relatives, or from the services available in your community.

Advance care planning

While your health care professionals will do everything they can to cure your lung cancer, factors such as the stage of the cancer at diagnosis sometimes mean that their best efforts cannot cure you.

Advance care planning is about helping you think and talk about the end of life, and about what treatments and care you might want.

You and your health care providers should be working together to ensure that your future care choices make sense. This will then guide your family/whānau and doctors when you can no longer tell them yourself.

Advance care planning is voluntary—no one can force you to do it.

For more information on advance care planning, visit the Advance Care Planning website.

Following a cancer diagnosis, many people look for information about new types of treatment, the latest research findings and stories about how other people have coped. Contact your Cancer Society library or local library for some good quality resources. 

Key points: The impact of lung cancer

  • Lung cancer is strongly linked with smoking. As a result many people feel blamed or judged by others when they are diagnosed. If this is affecting you, talk to someone (for example, a counsellor or trusted friend).
  • When you are diagnosed with lung cancer you may have many different things to deal with—emotional changes, family reactions and practical and financial challenges.
  • Talk to your doctor or your local Cancer Society about the support services available for you and your family.