Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on November 23, 2021
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Job No. 1: Take Care of Yourself

If you’ve been diagnosed with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), there are many types of treatment options available. The treatments, like the disease itself, can affect your physical health. Your moods and emotions can take a beating, too.

It’s important to be as healthy as you can be, both mentally and physically, to meet the challenges.

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Watch What You Eat

There’s no specific diet for those with NSCLC. What you’ll eat and drink probably will change during treatment, anyway. It’s smart to:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Eat small meals instead of big ones.
  • Lean toward bland foods, especially if you have side effects from treatment.
  • Take care preparing raw food. Cancer treatment can affect your immune system, which raises your chances for infection.
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Get Moving

Many with NSCLC fear exercise because breathing may be tough. In reality, exercise can help:

  • Ease fatigue
  • Prevent depression
  • Make your muscles stronger
  • Lead to a better quality of life

Get with your doctors to see what type of exercise is best while going through treatment. Even a walk to the mailbox can make you feel better.

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Lean on Someone

Living with cancer can be hard. Find someone -- a family member, a loved one, a really good friend -- you can talk to about your illness. Take someone you trust to your appointments, too. They can help you understand what you’re told, remind you about things you’ve forgotten or didn’t hear, and lend valuable support.

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Protect Your Lungs

NSCLC can damage them. Smoking plays a big part in lung cancer. So if you smoke, try to quit.

Compromised lungs need special attention. You should also avoid secondhand smoke, and stay inside when the air quality outside is poor.

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Do Your Breathing Exercises

Just like a good dumbbell curl can make those biceps pop, good breathing exercises can make your lungs work better. They can clear out stale air, raise your oxygen levels, and help you breathe better. Ask your doctor about things like pursed-lip breathing and belly breathing.

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Rest Up

Those with NSCLC and other lung cancers often say fatigue is the thing they deal with the most. Resting when you need it is a good strategy. Take short naps, go easy on extra physical activity, and ask others to help with chores. You may have to experiment to figure out the right amounts of rest and activity for you. But make the time and effort to figure it out.

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Learn How to Relax

NSCLC often comes with a shortness of breath, which can trigger fear and anxiety, which can make things worse.

It’s important to find healthy things that help you relax. You could listen to music, watch TV, read a book, or do some breathing exercises.

Stuck for an idea? Try closing your eyes, flexing and relaxing your muscles, and imagining calm and soothing places.

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Find a Support Group

Leaning on friends and family is important, but so is talking with those who know what you’re living with. That’s where support groups come in. The Lung Cancer Alliance, the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and other organizations can point you to groups in your area, online groups, or help lines where a sympathetic ear is waiting.

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Beat Back Those Side Effects

The list of side effects from cancer treatment can be long. From anemia, to bleeding, to memory loss, the fallout from treatment is sometimes as challenging as the disease itself.  Learning to manage things is critical. The side effects, of course, are different from person to person. Just know they’re common and, with help from your doctor, you can make them easier to deal with.

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Get Your Flu Shot

You may have to avoid certain vaccines. Which ones you’ll have to stay away from depend on the treatment you’re getting. Vaccines need a healthy immune system to work properly, and cancer treatments can weaken yours. Those with cancer can get a flu shot, though, because it contains dead viruses. (Stay away from the nasal flu vaccine, which contains live viruses.) Always check with your doctor first before getting any type.

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Consider Palliative Care

Palliative care -- care that relieves pain and stress and improves your quality of life -- is appropriate at any stage of treatment. You can get it at hospitals, clinics, or at home, often along with your other cancer medications.

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Accept Your Moods

Don’t blame yourself. Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t super-positive all the time. You have a lot to deal with. Your mood will swing with this disease, and that’s OK.

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Stay on Treatment

You and your care team are partners in fighting cancer. Doctors, especially, are trained in how to attack it. Though miracle cures may sound promising, it’s important to stick with your team’s treatment plan.

That doesn’t mean you can’t try some different approaches, like acupuncture, aromatherapy, meditation, and prayer. But always discuss every part of your care with your team first.

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National Cancer Institute: “Feelings and Cancer,” “Learning to Relax,” “Support for Caregivers of Cancer Patients.”

American Lung Association: “Nutrition for Lung Cancer Patients,” “Physical Activity and Lung Cancer,” “Breathing Exercises”, “How Do I Manage Lung Cancer Side Effects?” “Lung Cancer Support Groups,” “Supportive (Palliative) Care for Lung Cancer.”

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: “Exercising with lung cancer.”

American Cancer Society: “How can I help myself cope with cancer?” “Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Risk Factors,” “Find Support Programs and Services in Your Area,” “Vaccination During Cancer Treatment,” “Can I Safely Use an Alternative or Complementary Therapy?”

John, LD. Oncology Nursing Forum, May 2010.

Mayo Clinic: “Lung cancer; Diagnosis & treatment.”

Lung Cancer Alliance: “Support Groups,” “HelpLine & Support.”