Self-Care Tips for Lung Cancer Patients

Self-care — the practice of allotting time to take care of yourself and keep up with your own needs — is an important way of keeping the mind and body healthy. It is important for patients with lung cancer to practice self-care, especially during COVID-19.

Here, Susanne Welsh Lobacki, LICSW, a clinical social worker at the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber, gives tips on how lung cancer patients can practice self-care.

Build yourself a resiliency toolbox

Having a toolbox filled with all of the people you know you can trust and rely on will help you build a strong and stable support system. Get to know your care team and how each of them supports your care, treatment, and well-being. Then understand how your family and friends are there for you.

Understanding which family members or friends are good at offering emotional support or are good listeners will help you build out that side of your support network. Knowing which friends or family are able to offer practical help, such as cooking a meal once a week or taking the kids to band rehearsals, will help you know who you can turn to when you just need an extra set of hands.

The other important part of your resiliency toolbox is knowing that there are social workers available to talk to you whenever you need it. They may be able to offer advice and comfort that comes from an understanding of what you are going through.

Dana-Farber’s licensed social workers, working as part of our Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care, are here to help.

Try meditation or mindfulness practice

Meditation is a great way to help center yourself. Headspace, a guided mediation app, is free for Dana-Farber patients and is a great way to get started on a meditation habit. (Mindfulness, which can be achieved through meditation, is simply the state of being fully present in what you are doing and the world around you without being overly reactive or overwhelmed.)

Taking some time each day to sit and focus on your breathing, let your thoughts fade to the background, and fully inhabit your body is a great way to bring your focus back and bring your mind a little peace and quiet.

Set some time aside each day for ‘me time’

The whirlwind of family, kids, pets, treatment, doctors’ appointments, and everything else people deal with on a day-to-day basis can leave very little room for yourself. Try to dedicate some time each day to yourself, whether that be a hot bath, playing an instrument, reading a book or picking up a new hobby. That small amount of time where you can just focus in on what you need will be restorative.

Lung cancer can be incredibly stressful on its own without the added pressure that COVID-19 has added. Setting aside some time to do something you love, or simply pampering yourself, will help to relieve some of that stress.

Try every day to set aside dedicated ‘worry time’

Cancer patients often bottle up their feelings and suppress their worries or anxiety. Dealing with a lung cancer diagnosis can be hard, and having an emotional reaction to it is completely normal.

Giving yourself a chance to feel that anxiety and think those worried thoughts will help you figure out which worries can be acted on. You can use your worries or anxiety to figure out which questions you need to ask your doctors or your social worker — or maybe your worries could be assuaged by getting a friend to come over and watch the kids while you get treatment.

Try not to let your worries overwhelm you: Instead, take half an hour a day to feel and understand them and then use them as motivation to push you to action.

Use strategies to get a good night’s sleep

A good night’s rest is a way to maintain physical as well as emotional health. There are a few things you can try to improve your sleep:

  • Try going to bed and waking up at the same times. This helps create a routine that your body can follow, and will aid in keeping you asleep throughout the night.
  • Using Headspace before bed can help to relax the mind and body to prepare it for sleep.
  • Take a look at what you’re doing during the day. Maybe that mid-afternoon nap is disrupting your nighttime sleep. Maybe you need to get up and walk a little more to help tire yourself out more. Changing some things in your daytime routine can help with sleeping at night.
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing a group of muscles and then relaxing them, then working your way through your body accordingly. This can help you relax but also figure out where you are holding tension so you can release it. It will also bring your focus to your body, which can help quiet your mind.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Asking for help can be very hard for some people, especially if they are not used to needing help. Simple tasks can become more complicated due to COVID-19. Remember that it is okay to ask for help. Sometimes you just need an extra set of hands or a shoulder to lean on. It can take a lot of courage to ask for help, but in all likelihood, your friends and family are standing by  ready and waiting to help however they can.