Living Your Best With Lung Cancer

Lung cancer and its treatments can affect your day-to-day life in different ways. Here are a few ways to make living with the disease a little easier.

Help yourself breathe. Sometimes it might be hard to breathe. It might be easier when you sit, stand, or lie down in different positions. Try some of these:

  • Sit up very straight, lean forward, and rest your elbows on the arms of the chair or your knees.
  • Lie on your side with three or four pillows under your upper body, from the waist up.
  • Stand and lean forward with your hands on a desk or table.
  • Stand and lean back with your shoulders against a wall.

Breathing exercises can help, too. Try belly breathing or pursed-lip breathing:

  • Belly breathing uses the muscle just below your breastbone, called the diaphragm. Lie on your back and put a book on your stomach. Try to make the book rise and fall as you breathe.
  • Pursed-lip breathing can also help. Press your lips together like you’re about to whistle. Breathe in through your nose. Take twice as long to breathe out through the center of your lips.

Watch your mouth. Lung cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can give you a dry mouth and make it hard to eat. If you know you will be getting those treatments, visit your dentist as soon as possible to make sure your mouth is in good shape.

Here are a few tips to help with dry mouth:

  • Use a soft-bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Soaking the brush in warm water will make the bristles even softer.
  • Suck on ice chips, or sugarless hard candies or chew sugarless gum.
  • Rinse your mouth with salt and baking soda 4 to 6 times a day, especially after you eat. Add 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and baking soda to 2 cups of lukewarm water. Don't swallow; just swish it in your mouth and spit it out.
  • Try artificial saliva. You can buy it over the counter at a drugstore.
  • Don’t use mouthwashes that have alcohol.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier.

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Drink enough fluids. Drinking water or fluids can help you:

  • Keep your mouth from getting dry
  • Help your digestion
  • Keep you from getting dehydrated when you vomit or have diarrhea
  • Help you have more energy

If you have lost your appetite or you feel full on very little food, try not to have too many fluids at meal times. Drink them at other times of the day, instead.

Fight fatigue with food. Calories are energy. But it can be tough to get enough if you feel sick to your stomach from cancer treatments. Try changing how you eat.

  • Eat smaller meals every 3 or 4 hours instead of three big ones.
  • Eat foods that pack some calories into small amounts, like nuts, cheese, or peanut butter.
  • Eat foods high in iron, like brown rice, whole wheat bread, molasses, peanut butter, and lean meat.
  • Ask your doctor about taking vitamins.

Some foods might make the drugs you take less effective, so be sure to ask your doctor if there’s anything you should avoid.

Dress for treatment. If you have to get an IV or have a port put into your chest to get your treatment, dress so the nurse can hook you up easily. Wear short or loose sleeves or a loose collar. The treatment room will probably be cold, so bring a blanket or ask for one while you’re there.

Speak up. Your family and friends might not know what to say or do to help you. Let them know if it’s OK to talk about your cancer. But also let them know that you want to talk about other things, too.

Make a list of things people can do for you, whether it’s cooking, chores, giving you a ride, or walking your dog. On the other hand, maybe a loved one is hovering or trying to do too much for you. It’s OK to tell the person that while you appreciate the help, daily visits tucker you out and it might be better to come over only on certain days.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 07, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

University of Rochester Medical Center: “Struggling to Breathe: Tips for Managing Dyspnea.”

Roy Castle Cancer Foundation: “Managing Lung Cancer Symptoms: Breathlessness.”

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Dry Mouth or Xerostomia,” “Family Life.”

University of Arizona Cancer Center: “Tips Before and During Treatment.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Anemia & Iron-Rich Foods.”

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

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