Typically, polite society will tell us that the two major topics to avoid at all costs during discussion are religion and politics. Those are hard enough to avoid since both are cornerstone experiences of the history of humanity and daily experiences even in the present. Yet, what about illness? What about how illness sometimes results in death? It seems that a difficult diagnosis or long illness is also often swept to the side because of how unpleasant or frightening it may be to talk about it. Yet, for those who face a diagnosis such as lung cancer, a conversation is needed.
If you are a lung cancer or lung disease patient, you need to be prepared to manage the physical and mental symptoms that come with the disease and have conversations about your wishes and goals in order to achieve the best possible outcomes. It’s tough to talk about pain and possible death, but hacing the conversation about end-of-life and advance care planning will immeasurably improve your care and outcomes.
Physical Symptom Management for Lung Cancer Patients
As you move through stages of lung cancer, you may experience the buildup of cancer cells in and around the lungs, which can cause significant discomfort. For example cancer cells may increase in number in the fluid around the lungs, causing symptoms ranging from shortness of breath to the sensation of drowning. Tumors in the lungs may also grow without bounds, invading space near to the airway, causing both obstructed breathing and bleeding.
In both cases there are medical procedures available that bring you comfort, whether or not a cure is possible. Excess fluid can be drained and tumors can be shrunk back using radiation therapy. If you are facing a terminal diagnosis, you might expect to experience severe exhaustion.
Profound fatigue is often the result of a lack of oxygen, which is often offered as a non-invasive replacement therapy during end-of-life, giving you the comfort of additional access to air. When you can breathe well, you are better able to sleep and more maximally function from day to day up until the very end. Exhaustion can also be the by-product of reduced interest in food and drink. Your care team can consider options for how to maintain levels of nutrition and hydration for the sake of comfort.
Managing Pain Effectively
Lung cancer often spreads throughout other organ systems, including to the brain and bones, resulting in significant pain. No one wants to suffer toward the end of life, which is why a hospice care team will work closely with you and your loved ones to assist with pain management. While the care team can provide over-the-counter drugs, but chances are, they will offer much stronger medications to manage the significantly more complex pain symptoms that occur in lung cancer patients.
Treatment may include opioids, including the commonly prescribed morphine or fentanyl patch alternatives for pain management. The care team will responsibly offer you appropriate dosage and will also modify your dose as needed and help you to manage side effects of the medication.
Managing other Symptoms
In addition to effective, traditional pain managemet through the use of medication, a quality hospice and palliative care team or center is likely to also offer advice on relieving pain without medication. A hospice care team can also help patients manage the emotional struggles and other challenges related to the disease. Art and music therapy, for example, are often options. Studies have also demonstrated that qualified music therapists can help calm the effects of physical and mental symptoms, providing astonishing relief to sufferers. Additionally, among the most uniquely difficult aspects of a lung cancer diagnosis that crops up in a certain percentage of patients is shame.
Relying on Social Workers and Counselors
Lung cancer is often socially associated with smoking habits and patients who correlate their illness with past or present smoking behaviors often express shame at a habit that may have been difficult to break. If this is where you’re at, trained counselors, social workers, or other therapists may be able to assist you in processing their feelings. Simply an opportunity to talk may be helpful.
Therapy may also help you come to terms with your circumstances both for yourself and with close relationships you share with others. Progressing through your journey with lung cancer does not have to be unduly marked by struggle with feelings of disgrace or other kinds of negativity. Talking to loved ones about your illness can be difficult but many patients will ultimate find the experience cathartic.
The most significant challenge you and your caregivers may face with a lung cancer diagnosis is helping you to identify the most important aspects of your last months, weeks, or days. Planning for and during end-of-life is critical when receiving such a dramatic diagnosis. Note that planning for the end of life upon receiving a difficult diagnosis is not capitulation to the end, but instead allowing you and your loved ones an opportunity for careful planning to help you achieve life goals now, until the end of life (whenever the end may be).
What To Do With Your Things
The first imperative step of end of life planning is creating both a living will and healthcare power of attorney. In other words, how will your resources and possessions be managed in the case that you are incapacitated or gone? How will that affect your loved ones? What kinds of medical decisions would you like to make – and if you are unable to make them yourself, whom would you trust to make those decisions on your behalf?
Don’t leave those questions to uncertainty or to chance. Complete the legal paperwork necessary in your state through conversation with your loved ones to ensure the best possible outcome. You will rest easier in the long run knowing those affairs are in order.
What To Do With Your Time
The second imperative of advance care planning is establishing major goals. Is your primary goal to see your daughter get married in a few months? Is there a family vacation coming up that you’ve been excited about for years? Do you want the opportunity to plan an event with friends? If so, your medical care team needs to be aware. Surgical and therapeutic procedures may limit those plans, and it may be possible to plan medical care around your goals and hopes.
Furthermore, if you are contending with the difficult situation of a terminal diagnosis, your plans for comfort care may increase the likelihood of being present for special goals or events, rather than putting yourself through experimental treatments or surgeries that could leave you in a nursing facility for rehabilitation. Make your hopes, goals, and desires known through consultation with your loved ones, and invite your medical and care team into the conversation.
What To Do With Your Memories
The third imperative of end-of-life planning may be difficult to even consider, but important nonetheless: considering what will happen after you die. What would you like to happen to your remains? How would you like to be remembered? While it is not necessarily usual or comfortable “dinner table discussion,” talk through funeral or memorial service plans.
Are there readings and special music you would like to have shared during a memorial? Would you like a funeral or other service to occur in a special location? Are there special people you would like to say a few words? Put those desires down on paper. Not only is it important for you as you reflect on the life you’ve lived, but it will be a gift to your loved ones who will miss you and want to both remember and honor your life after your death.
Harbor Light Hospice is Here to Help!
For more information about the support and benefits of hospice care for lung cancer or lung disease patients. pleasecontact Harbor Light Hospice online or call us directly today.