Living with Lung Cancer

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Content on HealthUnlocked does not replace the relationship between you and doctors or other healthcare professionals nor the advice you receive from them.

Never delay seeking advice or dialling emergency services because of something that you have read on HealthUnlocked.

Family and relationships

Keeping up relationships

Family, friends, work colleagues and acquaintances are all part of the social network that helps make you who you are. Maintaining these relationships is important – they can be sources of support and practical help. Socialising with friends or at work can also help remind you that there’s more to life than your cancer.

Family and friends worry too

It might not be plain sailing. Your family is likely to feel worried and uncertain – sometimes they seem more anxious than you are. You might find some friends and work colleagues shy away from you – they may feel ‘awkward’ and not know what to say.

Being able to talk openly about your thoughts and feelings with family and friends can be very helpful – for you and them.

Accepting help, with for example shopping or housework, often brings a win-win – the demands on you are reduced and you’re offering your friend the chance to be involved in your care in whatever way they can.

Visit HealthTalk for personal accounts of how others with lung cancer handled their relationships

Watch this Roy Castle Foundation video on support and care from loved ones:

Talking to children

Talking to your children can be hard. It can be helpful to explain that it is normal for them to feel

strong emotions and it is important for them to discuss any worries with you. Sometimes taking them on hospital visits and letting them meet the staff can help reduce their fears.

Even very young children will probably be aware that something has changed, and talking to them in ways they can understand may reassure them.

If you have school-age children, it is a good idea to tell their teacher. This will help with any emotional or behavioural problems in the classroom. If you are worried about how a child is reacting, discuss it with your lung cancer nurse specialist or GP. They can give you advice or suggest referral to a social worker or child psychologist.

There’s a wide range of books for children on illness in the family. These can be very useful in helping to explain what’s happening.

There can be extra challenges if you need to talk to someone with a learning (intellectual) disability.

Do your own thing

The rigours of living with lung cancer can strain your closest relationships. Couples sometimes become ‘clingy’ when one of them has a serious illness, spending much more time together than they are used to. This can eventually become oppressive for both of you.

If you have a partner, keeping up your own activities and doing things you want to away from your partner can help ease tensions. It also means, because you’ve both done different things, you have more to chat about that isn’t to do with your illness.

There’s no reason not to continue enjoying a fulfilling physical relationship. But it is not uncommon to find that sexual interest decreases, especially during treatment periods. Cancer or its treatment can affect your sexuality in several ways. It can affect:

  • Your physical ability to enjoy sex or become aroused

  • Your emotions

  • Your feelings about your body

  • How you feel about your role in the relationship

Problems in one area can spill over into the others. It may help to discuss any concerns with your partner. Your GP or lung cancer nurse specialist might be able to give advice or refer you to a relationship counsellor.

Lung cancer was ‘the last thing I expected’

Mum-of-two Joanna Marshall was just 37 when she was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. She recalls having a cough and feeling ‘under the weather’, and visited the doctor several times before being referred for an X-ray. "Being relatively young and very healthy with a healthy lifestyle, the last thing I expected was a diagnosis of lung cancer - advanced lung cancer," she says. With her treatment continuing, Joanna has made a Roy Castle film in which she talks of her symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, as well as how the illness has affected her and her family.

Carers have rights too

If someone is looking after you at home – whether they live with you or are just dropping in to help – they probably qualify as a carer even though you and they may not think of them like that.

They may qualify for Carer’s Allowance, tax credits or other benefits. They have the right to take time off from work in emergencies and protection from discrimination if their caring interferes with work.

They can ask the local authority for a carer’s needs assessment which could open the door to all sorts of support from having taxi fares paid or getting help with housework, to providing respite care so your carer can take a break.

Content on HealthUnlocked does not replace the relationship between you and doctors or other healthcare professionals nor the advice you receive from them.

Never delay seeking advice or dialling emergency services because of something that you have read on HealthUnlocked.