The news of a lung cancer diagnosis is life changing and devastating. With that being said, the stages of accepting cancer is different for everyone. It is typically followed by a plethora of questions, worries, and concerns. You may experience a gamut of emotions from fear, stress, anger, and even depression. You may worry about treatment side effects, overall healthcare costs, and the impact this disease may have on your family, career, and life.
All of these thoughts, feelings, and concerns are normal and part of the stages of grief. Though these emotions will be overwhelming at times, learning how to take a step back and progress through the stages of accepting cancer will help you prioritize the most important steps in this journey.Read More
If you can relate to what is mentioned above, keep on reading to learn the steps you can take after a lung cancer diagnosis.
Stages of Accepting Cancer – Accepting Your Diagnosis
There is no right or wrong feeling when you have been given the news that you have been diagnosed with lung cancer. While the steps of grief depend on your willpower, the news can make you completely blindsided and overwhelmed. You may even decide to avoid thinking about how you feel.
What is important to understand here is that whether you try to escape the thought or stressful feeling, your response after your diagnosis is “normal”. In some cases, denial of such news is also productive in the sense that it gives you time to process the stages of grief and recover from the shocking news. Regardless of the time, you may take to process it, you must accept your emotions, express them to your trusted loved ones, and take additional time for yourself to sort through the next steps.
If it is not critical to start treatment immediately, it is always better to discuss with your doctor all therapy options. It may be a good idea as well to get a second opinion, just to be safe. There is nothing wrong with feeling completely overwrought, stressed, strained, and emotional after such news. Your doctor may refer you to a counselor, therapist, social worker, or even someone who has been through the same journey you are about to endure. Meeting with a psychologist or psychiatrist can help you get the emotional support you need.
The first conversation after a diagnosis is “let’s figure out what we’re dealing with so that we can figure out what the best options are to help this case, to help you feel better and to help try to control this cancer.” Dr. Leena Ghandi, a thoracic oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview.
A study has shown that stress or poor emotional well-being may add to the inability to process or adjust to the challenges of cancer treatment. That is why many healthcare providers recommend taking a reasonable amount of time to go through the stages of accepting cancer to process the diagnosis. Once you accept the news, you will be in a better state of mind to make informed treatment decisions instead of feeling overwhelmed.
Understanding the Stages of Lung Cancer
Once you have received your diagnosis, the staging process starts. In addition to a CT or CAT (initial computed tomography scan), the doctors run a brain resonance imaging MRI to evaluate the effects of cancer on the brain. They may conduct a positron emission tomography scan to check if lung cancer has affected the liver, adrenal glands, and/or bones. All this information helps the doctor determine the stage of cancer and ultimately suggest treatment decisions.
“When a patient has lung cancer, and we know the diagnosis is real, the next question is, where is it? Has it spread? And we call that process staging,” Dr. Geoffrey Oxnard, a thoracic oncologist at Boston University School of Medicine, told SurvivorNet. “Has the cancer learned to walk beyond the tumor in the lung into the lymph nodes and beyond, into the brain, the bone, the liver, the adrenal gland, the places where lung cancers tend to metastasize.”
Having a clear understanding of cancer staging provides Information to not only doctors but patients also. The stage determines the likely outcome of the treatment and provides an educated estimate of the patient’s life expectancy and cure rate. Put simply, when you are first diagnosed with lung cancer, the news is either worrisome or somewhat reassuring. However, staging is a crucial part of understanding the disease and your individualized situation.
Steps to Take After Lung Cancer Diagnosis
Find an Oncologist
Finding a good specialist, of course, has to be your first step after the diagnosis. You need to narrow down a list of oncologists near you to move forward with a treatment action plan.
Typically, an oncologist has a team of multiple members who work cooperatively when you undergo treatment. This team typically includes the following:
- A primary care physician will oversee general health during the cancer treatment
- Medical oncologist will oversee drug therapies, including chemotherapy, while treating you as the care team’s primary coordinator
- Pathologists interpret lab results
- Surgical oncologist may perform lung cancer surgery if needed
- Radiation oncologist will oversee radiation therapy, with a radiation therapist
- Oncology nurses assist the process when you undergo treatment
- Radiologists analyze and assess MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans to check if your cancerous cells are responding to treatment
- Oncology therapists and social workers will counsel you and connect you with various support groups
When selecting a medical oncologist to treat your cancer, look for a medically specialized thoracic oncologist. This type of doctor is a cancer specialist who focuses on cancers related to the thorax. Similarly, if you need a surgical oncologist, choose one with credentials as a thoracic surgeon. It is always better to speak with a primary care physician, local hospital, and health insurer to find a qualified oncologist.
Moreover, you can also find certified oncologists on ASCO (The American Society of Clinical Oncology). If your lung cancer type is uncommon or severe, consider visiting the National Cancer Institute. It is a designated treatment center for cancer. Each NCI-designated treatment center delivers a reliable treatment for cancer with highly trained and qualified specialists.
Prepare for Your First Appointment
Successful cancer treatment is all about a collaborative partnership between the patient and their dedicated medical team. Your team keeps you informed about every aspect of your diagnosis as well as treatment. That is why you must find an oncologist who is skilled and experienced in his or her field. Plus, they should always be willing to interact with you openly and honestly. We recommend you write down questions and concerns before you meet with your oncology team. As the first appointment is about your treatment options and quality of life, it must provide you with the information and insights about the process ahead.
The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship recommends some of these questions you may want to ask your oncologist:
- How do you choose a treatment option?
- What are the approaches that can be used to treat my cancer type?
- What are the chances of my treatment’s success?
- What realistic goals have you taken into account for my treatment?
- What will be the effects of treatment on my health and life?
- Will I be able to continue my work/career?
No matter how awkward it may seem, never hesitate to ask your healthcare providers about their experience, credentials, and area of practice devoted to lung cancer.
Get a Second Opinion
Seeking a second opinion does not mean that there is a lack of trust between you and your oncologist. In fact, it provides you with a sound understanding to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of treatment objectively. In addition, it offers you a kind of validation to reconsider the steps related to your medical treatment. There are some standard protocols all oncologists follow, but sometimes there is a divergence in opinions based on newer therapies and treatment options available.
Understand Treatment Costs
On average, the cost of cancer treatment is higher than most other medical treatments. It is important to review your health insurance policy and find treatment centers that offer financial aid to assist the process if needed. When reviewing your health policy, be sure to find out the following:
- Deductibles (the amount you will pay for the services before your insurance covers them)
- Out of pocket maximum (the amount you will pay after your insurance plan covers all approved treatments)
- Copay (the percentage of covered treatment or services you are responsible for)
Work with your financial aid specialist to calculate your annual out-of-pocket expenses instead of worrying about the total treatment costs. The specialist will analyze your health plan and help you find out if you need a different policy or if it is better to increase upfront premiums.
If you determine you cannot afford treatment, ask your financial aid specialist to connect you with a suitable financial assistance program that facilitates lung cancer patients.
These may include but are not limited to the following:
- Supplemental Security
- Pharmaceutical Patient Assistance Programs (PAP)
- Patient Advocate Foundation
Create a Support Group
Going through cancer treatment is, without a doubt, difficult. It is not just physical rigors that take a toll on you but emotional and mental stress that make coping with the disease hard. This is when you may need assistance with everyday tasks such as childcare, transportation, and work while you undergo treatment. One of the best ways to reduce stress related to a cancer diagnosis is to reach out to your loved ones.
Letting in your close friends and family members on your treatment journey is one of the stages of accepting cancer. Share what your treatment involves with them.
It helps your family and friends understand your needs and conditions. The more they know what you are going through, the more they will be able to support you in every aspect possible. In most cases, friends and family work as a team to offer much-needed support to the patient undergoing treatment. They schedule a time to help out in person and may even connect with you using care coordination apps and other digital health technologies.
Along with this, you can also find and talk to cancer survivors to get much-needed motivation for your cancer treatment. Finding or talking to people who are also fighting lung cancer will offer you a unique source of peace and comfort. In addition, many caregiving platforms and treatment facilities have support groups. You can become a part of these groups to get insights and referrals. These groups are also helpful to resolving your concerns regarding the treatment you are taking. Talking with other cancer patients can also help improve your diet regime and lifestyle. If you find it hard to approach an in-person support group, it may be easier to join an online support group instead.
Moving Forward – Final Thoughts
Accepting your cancer diagnosis does not mean that you are losing or letting go of your normal emotions. It only means that your mind has accepted it and now you are ready to embark on this new chapter of life.
Accepting your diagnosis does not mean that you will not face further challenges that come with your lung cancer treatment. If you think it is hard to deal with it or cope with associated stress, do not hesitate to seek the assistance of a professional psychiatrist or psychologist. Counseling as well as certain prescribed pharmacological agents may be incredibly helpful to overcome associated stress, anxiety, and depression. Make sure you cooperate with your care team and support network to find the best solution to lower your stress and get you on the right path toward your journey in conquering lung cancer.