How can I support my wife, emotionally, as she deals with lung cancer?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 28, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I am the husband and caregiver to my wife who has been diagnosed with malignant neoplasm of bronchus and lung, unspecified. She was on intravenous, now pills. She is very worn out most of the time and grouchy and cries a lot. what can I do to help her?

Expert Answers

Bonnie Bajorek Daneker is author and creator of the The Compassionate Caregiver's Series, which includes "The Compassionate Caregiver's Guide to Caring for Someone with Cancer," "The Journey of Grief," "Handbook on Hospice and Palliative Care," and other titles on cancer diagnosis and end of life. She speaks regularly at cancer research and support functions, including PANCAN and Cancer Survivor's Network. She is a former member of the Executive Committee of the CSN at St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta and the Georgia Chapter of the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

You're in good company. I've had several questions about patients with neoplasms lately, many from caregivers experiencing things like you are.

Let's start with a couple of explanations: With lung cancers, breathing is obviously affected, and because we breath so much during a day, there are many times when the patient can be in discomfort -- or downright pain -- just in breathing. Further, if the body's not getting the air it needs and it's fighting cancer, energy levels will be lower.

On top of it all, chemotherapy alters the body's chemistry, such that everything from sensory perception to emotional display is affected. Frankly, most of it is out of her control. I remember my father getting emotional once over crossword puzzles during treatment. But the good news is that as chemo treatments subside and the chemicals flush from her system, she should be able to better manage them.

In the meantime, here are some things you can do:

  • Two good ways to help her fight fatigue and stress are gentle exercising or small physical work. Encourage trying exercises like Pilates, yoga, or recumbent bicycle riding that can be easily stopped if they get to be too much. Daily physical projects sitting down (like folding laundry, opening mail or peeling vegetables)or with limited walking(like grocery shopping or walking around the house)can get her started moving. Make sure she has plenty of water, which will keep her hydrated and also flush out her system.

  • Give her a little project (or decide on one with her) like putting pictures in an album/CD or organize old cards. It is something she can work on long term, and be concentrating on instead of her disease. It could be fun, too!

  • Get massages. Both of you. They may seem extravagant but they are worth it as stress releases and opportunities to be in quiet.

  • Track when she's more anxious or irritable than usual. There may be a pattern. Exercise when she's got more energy, rest when she doesn't.

  • Be ready to listen at all times, but understand that the effects of the cancer and the chemo will be coming out in sometimes hurtful ways. We haven't found a way to stop that yet, so practice ignoring the hurtful things for now, and use a trusted friend to vent to.

  • Interact with other people. Have them visit or take a small trip to see them. It may be another welcome diversion that also dilutes some negative effects. You may get a little break, too.

  • Avoid the things that confuse or upset both of you. This time of year is more stressful for many people. As an idea, you may just skip decorations or gifts if it's just too much work right now. People will understand.

  • Lastly, make sure you're both getting enough rest. If you need sleep medication, ask for it from your doctor. It's really important that you take care of yourself, to be productive personally, as well as be a good caregiver. Good luck.