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Lung Cancer: What to Do After Your Diagnosis

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on February 09, 2021

The news that you have lung cancer can be scary and stressful. It’s hard to know what to do next. Here are a few things to think about. Don’t worry about doing them in order. The idea is just to start somewhere.

Learn about your diagnosis and treatment. Know the type of lung cancer you have and how serious it is. It can help you get ready for treatment. Your doctor is the best place to start for this info, but you can also read about your type of lung cancer. Make sure the sources you’re searching are well-known and reliable. Your health care team can recommend some good ones.

Get a second opinion. No matter how much you trust your doctor, it’s always helpful to ask another for advice on your diagnosis and treatment. Don’t be shy about asking for one. Most doctors will welcome it, and some insurance plans require it.

Prepare for more tests. Your doctor may do further tests to see whether your cancer has spread and to help them determine the best way to treat it. They could include:

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Find a treatment center. Your doctor will have ideas about which cancer treatment centers are a good match for you. You might have a few choices, so find out about some of the practical things, like:

  • Where it is and how you’re going to get there and back
  • How often the center works with your type of cancer
  • If there’s a place for you and your family to stay if it’s far away or you have to stay overnight
  • What services it can offer you and your family

If you’re going to have chemotherapy, many cancer centers will let someone sit with you when you go in for treatment. Think about who could come along. This person can help you ask questions and take notes, or just keep you company.

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Organize your health records. You could do this on paper that you put in a binder. Keep it in a fireproof box in a safe place. You could also go high-tech and keep it on your computer. Just make sure you back it up.

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Your health records should include:

  • Your diagnosis
  • Test results
  • Treatment information, including the names and doses of drugs you take, and the dates you got treatment
  • The names, phone numbers, and addresses of all your doctors, not just those you see for cancer. Include your past doctors, too.
  • Your past health history
  • Your family's health history

Sort out your health insurance. Find out what your copayments and deductibles are. Set up a system to help you keep track of your claims and payments. You could include this with your health record. By law, most people should have health insurance. If you don’t, find out if you can get some or if you’re eligible for Medicare or Medicaid.

Come to terms with your emotions. You may feel overwhelmed after your diagnosis, especially if your cancer has progressed beyond the early stages. It's different for everyone, but you might feel:

  • Afraid
  • Angry
  • Guilty
  • Lonely
  • Like you've lost control of your life

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These feelings are understandable, and you don't have to act like everything is OK. Think about what's helped you feel better when you've gone through hard times before, whether that's talking with a spiritual adviser or spending time outdoors. But don't be afraid to try new strategies, such as:

  • Journaling
  • Relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation
  • Staying involved in work or social activities
  • Taking time to be alone

Get support. Whether you need a mood boost or just someone to listen, there are all kinds of ways to get support. Depending on what you feel comfortable with, you could try:

  • Counseling
  • Organizations that will match you with someone who’s had the same kind of lung cancer
  • Telephone and email cancer helplines
  • Support groups, either online or in person

Talk to your family and friends. Chances are there will be a few changes in your routine. There may be days when it’s harder to do the things you normally do. You might need a hand with things like cooking, cleaning, or running errands. Sit down with your loved ones and let them know what you might need help with. Also, be open with them about what you're thinking and feeling. Talking it out with someone you trust can make you feel less anxious.

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Make your wishes known. Let your closest loved ones know the kind of health care you want if treatment doesn’t work. Legal documents called advance directives can spell out your wishes if you’re ever unable to let others know what you want. They include:

  • A living will, which spells out your medical wishes (such as whether you want to be put on a ventilator)
  • Medical power of attorney, which gives someone you trust the power to make health care decisions for you
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “When the Doctor Says ‘Cancer,’” “Choosing a Cancer Treatment Facility,” “Keeping a Personal Medical Record,” “Tracking Your Medical Bills and Health Insurance Claims,” “Finding Support and Information.”

National Cancer Institute: “How to Find a Doctor or Treatment Facility If You Have Cancer.”

The University of Pennsylvania, Oncolink: “Preparing for Your First Day of Chemotherapy.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Cancer: Preparing for Cancer Treatment.”

American Lung Association: “Decide On a Treatment Plan That’s Right for You.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Lung Cancer: Tests After Diagnosis."

Mayo Clinic: "Cancer Diagnosis: 11 tips for coping."

Cancer Council, New South Wales: "Common Reactions."

American Cancer Society: "Types of Advance Directives."

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