Understanding and Caring for Your Loved One with Lung Cancer

Published on March 18, 2024

Updated on March 15, 2024

Lung cancer presents a difficult path for both individuals facing illness and their loved ones. As a dedicated hospice registered nurse case manager specializing in end-of-life care, my purpose is to equip you with essential insights. This aims to enlighten you about the stages of the disease, detecting crucial shifts in your dear one's condition, and delivering optimal care from inception to closure. By sharing this knowledge, my intention is to empower you to provide tender and considerate assistance throughout this profound journey.

Lung cancer is a serious disease that affects the lungs, the organs that help us breathe. Lung cancer can make it hard to breathe and cause other problems in the body. Lung cancer can also change over time and become more severe. This is called progression.

Progression means that the cancer cells grow and spread to other parts of the lung or the body. Doctors use different stages to describe how far the cancer has progressed. Knowing the stage of lung cancer can help you and your loved one plan the best treatment and care.

Stages of Lung Cancer

Lung cancer has four main stages, from stage 1 to stage 4. Each stage has distinctive characteristics and needs several types of care. The stages are:

Stage 1: Cancer is confined to the lung. This means that the cancer cells are only in one part of the lung and have not spread to other places. Stage 1 lung cancer is the earliest and easiest to treat. People with stage 1 lung cancer may have surgery to remove the cancerous part of the lung. They may also have radiation therapy or chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Stage 2: Cancer has spread to nearby areas. This means that the cancer cells have moved to the nearby lymph nodes, the small glands that help fight infections. Stage 2 lung cancer is still treatable but may need more aggressive treatment. People with stage 2 lung cancer may have surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments.

Stage 3: Cancer has spread to lymph nodes and other organs. This means that the cancer cells have reached the lymph nodes on the other side of the chest or in the neck. They may also have spread to other organs near the lungs, such as the heart, the esophagus, or the trachea. Stage 3 lung cancer is more difficult to treat and may not be curable. People with stage 3 lung cancer may have radiation therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy. These are treatments that use drugs or other substances to attack the cancer cells.

Stage 4: Cancer has spread extensively. This means that the cancer cells have spread to distant organs, such as the brain, the liver, the bones, or the adrenal glands. Stage 4 lung cancer is the most advanced and the hardest to treat. People with stage 4 lung cancer may have , which is care that focuses on relieving pain and improving quality of life. They may also have some of the treatments mentioned above to slow down the growth of the cancer or reduce the symptoms.

Changes to Expect in Your Loved One

Lung cancer can affect your loved one in many ways. As the cancer grows and spreads, it can cause different problems in the body. Some of these problems may be hard to deal with. You and your loved one may need to adjust to these changes and find ways to cope. Here are some common changes that your loved one may experience:

Breathing difficulties: Lung cancer can make it hard for your loved one to breathe. They may feel short of breath, wheeze, or gasp for air. This can make them feel scared or anxious. To help them breathe easier, you can:

  • Encourage them to rest and avoid activities that make them tired.
  • Help them sit up or raise their head with pillows.
  • Open a window or use a fan to circulate fresh air.
  • Use a small portable fan, lowest setting, pointed at their left or right cheek.
  • Ask their health care provider about or medications that can improve their breathing.

Fatigue: Lung cancer can make your loved one feel very tired and weak. They may not have the energy to do the things they used to do. This can make them feel frustrated or depressed. To help them cope with fatigue, you can:

  • Help them plan their day and prioritize the most important tasks.
  • Encourage them to take short naps or breaks throughout the day.
  • Assist them with daily chores and errands.
  • Ask their health care provider about treatments that can boost their energy levels.

Coughing, sometimes with blood: Lung cancer can cause your loved one to cough a lot. Sometimes, they may cough up blood or mucus. This can be alarming and uncomfortable. To help them ease their cough, you can:

  • Give them plenty of fluids to keep their throat moist.
  • Offer them cough drops or lozenges to soothe their throat.
  • Avoid smoking or exposure to smoke or other irritants.
  • Ask their health care provider about medications that can suppress their cough or reduce the bleeding.

Loss of appetite and weight loss: Lung cancer can affect your loved one's appetite and digestion. They may not feel hungry or enjoy food as much as before. They may also lose weight or have trouble swallowing. This can affect their nutrition and health. To help them maintain their weight and appetite, you can:

  • Prepare small, frequent meals that are easy to eat and digest.
  • Add extra calories and protein to their food with cheese, butter, milk, or nuts.
  • Encourage them to drink nutritional supplements or shakes.
  • Ask their health care provider about medications that can stimulate their appetite or prevent nausea.

Pain or discomfort: Lung cancer can cause pain or discomfort in different parts of the body. The pain may be dull, sharp, or throbbing. It may be constant or come and go. Pain can affect your loved one's mood and sleep. To help them relieve their pain, you can:

  • Give them painkillers as prescribed by their health care provider.
  • Use heat or cold packs, massage, or acupuncture to ease their pain.
  • Help them find a comfortable position or use pillows to support their body.
  • Ask their health care provider about other options for pain management, such as nerve blocks or .

Changes in mood and energy levels: Lung cancer can affect your loved one's emotions and mental health. They may feel sad, angry, scared, or hopeless. They may also have trouble concentrating, remembering, or sleeping. These changes can affect their quality of life and relationships. To help them cope with their emotions, you can:

  • Listen to them and let them express their feelings.
  • Support them and remind them that they are not alone.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help or join a support group if they are feeling depressed or anxious.
  • Ask their health care provider about medications or therapies that can improve their mood and mental function.

Caring for Your Loved One

Lung cancer can be hard to deal with, not only for the person who has it, but also for the people who love them. If you are caring for someone with lung cancer, you may feel overwhelmed or stressed. You may wonder how to best help them and make them feel better. Caring for your loved one involves addressing their physical and emotional needs. Here are some tips on how to do that:

Creating Comfort:

Your loved one may feel more comfortable if you create a calm and soothing environment for them. This can help them relax and cope with their symptoms. To create comfort, you can:

  • Ensure a calm and soothing environment. You can do this by keeping the room quiet, clean, and at a comfortable temperature. You can also use aromatherapy, such as lavender or chamomile, to create a pleasant smell.
  • Use soft pillows and blankets for comfort. You can help your loved one feel cozy and warm by using soft pillows and blankets. You can also adjust their bed or chair to make them more comfortable.
  • Play their favorite music or read to them. You can help your loved one feel entertained and distracted by playing their favorite music or reading to them. You can also watch a movie or a show with them or play a game or a puzzle.
  • Providing Emotional Support:

Your loved one may feel scared, sad, angry, or lonely because of their lung cancer. They may need your emotional support to cope with their feelings. To provide emotional support, you can:

  • Listen actively and offer a reassuring presence. You can show your loved one that you care and understand by listening to them and being there for them. You can also hug them, hold their hand, or touch their shoulder to comfort them.
  • Share memories and stories. You can help your loved one feel happy and connected by sharing memories and stories with them. You can also look at photos or videos of your good times together or make a scrapbook or a collage.
  • Engage in activities that bring joy. You can help your loved one feel positive and hopeful by engaging in activities that bring them joy. You can also encourage them to pursue their hobbies or interests or try something new. You can also celebrate their achievements or milestones or plan a special event or a trip.

Managing Symptoms:

Your loved one may experience various symptoms because of their lung cancer. These symptoms can affect their quality of life and well-being. To help them manage their symptoms, you can:

  • Breathing Difficulties: Help them find a comfortable position. You can help your loved one breathe easier by helping them find a comfortable position. You can also raise their head with pillows or prop them up with cushions. You can also help them practice breathing exercises or relaxation techniques.
  • Use a humidifier to moisten the air. You can help your loved one breathe easier by using a humidifier to moisten the air. This can help loosen the mucus and clear the airways. You can also add some drops of essential oils, such as eucalyptus or peppermint, to the humidifier for extra relief.
  • Fatigue: Encourage short walks and naps. You can help your loved one cope with fatigue by encouraging them to take short walks and naps. This can help them stay active and rested. You can also join them for a walk or a nap or help them find a safe and comfortable place to rest.
  • Pain: Administer prescribed pain medications on time. You can help your loved one relieve their pain by giving them their prescribed pain medications on time. You can also keep track of their pain level and report any changes to their health care provider. You can also ask their health care provider about other ways to manage their pain, such as heat or cold therapy, massage, or acupuncture.
  • Loss of Appetite: Offer small, nutritious meals and favorite foods. You can help your loved one maintain their weight and nutrition by offering them small, nutritious meals and favorite foods. You can also make their food more appealing by adding spices, sauces, or herbs. You can also serve their food in colorful or attractive dishes or use different shapes or sizes of cutlery.
  • Coughing: Use cough drops and humidifiers to ease irritation. You can help your loved one ease their cough by giving them cough drops or lozenges to soothe their throat. You can also use a humidifier to moisten the air and reduce the dryness. You can also avoid smoking or exposure to smoke or other irritants, such as dust or perfume.

Providing End-of-Life Care

There may come a time when the cancer treatment is no longer working, and your loved one is nearing the end of life. This can be an exceedingly difficult and emotional time for both of you. You may feel sad, angry, scared, or numb. You may also have many questions and concerns about what will happen and how to help your loved one. In this section, we will give you some tips on how to provide end-of-life care and ensure comfort and peace for your loved one.

: is a type of care that focuses on making your loved one as comfortable as possible in the last months, weeks, or days of life. Hospice care does not try to cure the cancer or prolong life, but rather to relieve pain and other symptoms, such as nausea, shortness of breath, or . Hospice care also provides emotional and spiritual support for your loved one and your family. Hospice care can be given at home, in a hospital, or in a hospice facility, depending on your loved one's needs and preferences. You can help your loved one by:

  • Talking to the doctor about hospice care. You can ask the doctor if your loved one is eligible for hospice care and when it might be appropriate to start. You can also ask the doctor for a referral to a hospice program in your area. You can find more information about hospice care from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization or the American Cancer Society.
  • Choosing a hospice program that meets your loved one's needs. You can compare different hospice programs based on their services, staff, costs, and location. You can also visit the hospice facility or talk to the hospice staff to get a sense of their philosophy and approach. You can ask questions such as:
    • What services do you offer and how often?
    • Who will be part of the hospice team and how will they communicate with us?
    • How do you manage pain and other symptoms?
    • How do you provide emotional and spiritual support?
    • How do you involve the family in the care plan?
    • How do you handle emergencies or after-hours calls?
    • How do you coordinate with other health care providers?
    • How do you bill for your services and what insurance do you accept?
  • Working with the hospice team to create a care plan. The hospice team will include a doctor, a nurse, a , a , a counselor, a home health aide, and a . They will work with you and your loved one to create a care plan that reflects your loved one's wishes and goals. The care plan will include details such as:
    • What medications and treatments your loved one will receive and how they will be administered.
    • What equipment and supplies your loved one will need and how they will be delivered.
    • What comfort measures and complementary therapies your loved one will use, such as massage, music, or aromatherapy.
    • What emotional and spiritual support your loved one and your family will receive, such as counseling, prayer, or rituals.
    • What legal and financial matters your loved one and your family will need to address, such as advance directives, wills, or funeral arrangements.
  • Providing care and support for your loved one. You will be the primary caregiver for your loved one, but you will not be alone. The hospice team will visit your loved one regularly and be available by phone 24/7. They will teach you how to care for your loved one, such as giving medications, changing dressings, or using equipment. They will also monitor your loved one's condition and adjust the care plan as needed. You can also ask for help from other family members, friends, or volunteers. You can help your loved one by:
    • Giving them their medications and treatments as prescribed and on time. Do not skip or change the doses without consulting the hospice team.
    • Keeping track of their pain and symptom level and how well the medications and treatments are working. Report any changes or concerns to the hospice team.
    • Providing comfort measures, such as massage, heat, ice, or distraction. You can also help them find a comfortable position, use pillows or cushions, or adjust the lighting or temperature in the room.
    • Being there for them emotionally and spiritually. Listen to their feelings and concerns without judging or interrupting. Try to be positive and hopeful, but also realistic and honest. Share your own feelings and fears with your loved one or someone else you trust. You can also seek professional help from a counselor or therapist if you or your loved one are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious.

Emotional Well-being: The end of life can be a time of mixed emotions for your loved one and your family. Your loved one may feel grateful, peaceful, or relieved, but also sad, angry, or scared. They may also have regrets, unfinished business, or unfulfilled dreams. You can help your loved one by:

  • Helping them find meaning and purpose in their life. You can help them reflect on their life story, their achievements, their values, and their legacy. You can also help them express their gratitude, forgiveness, or love to the people who matter to them. You can use different methods, such as writing, drawing, recording, or making a scrapbook.
  • Helping them cope with their fears and worries. You can help them identify and address their sources of fear and worry, such as pain, suffering, loss of control, or the unknown. You can also help them find ways to reduce their fear and worry, such as talking, praying, meditating, or breathing. You can also help them find comfort and hope in their , beliefs, or philosophy.
  • Helping them create cherished memories. You can help them make the most of the time they have left with their loved ones. You can help them plan and enjoy special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays. You can also help them create meaningful gifts, such as letters, videos, or jewelry, for their loved ones to remember them by.

A Continuum of Care and Support: Conclusion

Lung cancer is a hard and long journey that can make you and your loved one feel many things. You may feel sad, scared, angry, or hopeful. You may also feel confused, overwhelmed, or helpless. These are normal feelings, and you are not alone.

As a , I want to help you and your loved one through this journey. I want to give you information and advice that can make you feel more confident and prepared. I want to help you support your loved one in the best way possible.

The most important thing you can do is to understand the stages of lung cancer and what they mean. The stages tell you how far the cancer has spread and what kind of treatment and care your loved one needs. Knowing the stage can help you plan ahead and make decisions with your loved one and their health care team.

Another important thing you can do is to communicate openly with your loved one and their health care team. You can talk to your loved one about their feelings, their wishes, and their goals. You can also ask questions, share concerns, and express your needs. Communication can help you and your loved one feel closer and more supported.

The last important thing you can do is to prioritize comfort for your loved one and yourself. You can create a comfortable and soothing environment for your loved one by using pillows, blankets, music, or aromatherapy. You can also provide emotional support by listening, hugging, or sharing memories. You can also help your loved one manage their symptoms by giving them medications, fluids, or foods. Comfort can help your loved one feel more relaxed and peaceful.

By doing these things, you can show your love and care for your loved one. You can also make their journey more meaningful and dignified. You can also take care of yourself and your well-being. You can be a great caregiver and a great companion for your loved one.

Resources

Caring for a Loved One with Terminal Cancer: A Guide for Families

Understanding Cancer Metastasis: A Guide for Patients and Families

American Lung Association Lung Cancer Staging

Lung cancer symptoms

Understanding Hospice Care: Is it Too Early to Start Hospice?

What's the process of getting your loved one on hospice service?

Picking a hospice agency to provide hospice services

Medicare — Find and compare hospice providers

The Importance of Caregiver Journaling

Reporting Changes of Condition to Hospice

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The Caregiver's Guide to Cancer: Compassionate Advice for Caring for You and Your Loved One (Caregiver's Guides)

Cancer Caregiving A-to-Z: An At-Home Guide for Patients and Families

Peace in the Face of Cancer

A Handbook of caring for someone with cancer: Instructions for the Support Person or Caregiver Helping a Loved One Survive Cancer

Co-Surviving Cancer: The Guide for Caregivers, Family Members and Friends of Adults Living with Cancer

Things I Wish I'd Known: Cancer Caregivers Speak Out

Eldercare Locator: a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with trustworthy local support resources

As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. The amount generated from these “qualifying purchases” helps to maintain this site.

My Aging Parent Needs Help!: 7 Step Guide to Caregiving with No Regrets, More Compassion, and Going from Overwhelmed to Organized [Includes Tips for Caregiver Burnout]

Take Back Your Life: A Caregiver's Guide to Finding Freedom in the Midst of Overwhelm

The Conscious Caregiver: A Mindful Approach to Caring for Your Loved One Without Losing Yourself

Dear Caregiver, It's Your Life Too: 71 Self-Care Tips To Manage Stress, Avoid Burnout And Find Joy Again While Caring For A Loved One

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I've Loved

The Art of Dying

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying

Providing Comfort During the Last Days of Life with Barbara Karnes RN (YouTube Video)

Preparing the patient, family, and caregivers for a “Good Death”

Velocity of Changes in Condition as an Indicator of Approaching Death (often helpful to answer how soon? or when?)

The Dying Process and the End of Life

The Last Hours of Life

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Gone from My Sight: The Dying Experience

The Eleventh Hour: A Caring Guideline for the Hours to Minutes Before Death

By Your Side , A Guide for Caring for the Dying at Home

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