Coping With a Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Understanding common barriers and the emotional toll of the disease

(Editor’s Note: Although our current pandemic causes concern for us all, we must not forget that lung cancer diagnoses have not stopped and affect many. This content is provided by Merck in collaboration with GO₂ Foundation for Lung Cancer, sponsors of Next Avenue.)

Learning that you have advanced lung cancer can leave you feeling shocked. You may be asking yourself, how did this happen?

Lung cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancers in the U.S., and it remains one of the nation’s deadliest diseases. Most cases are not diagnosed until an advanced stage, when the prognosis is worse. For those who are faced with this alarming reality, the emotional response can be especially complex.

Feelings of shock, guilt and a sense of defeat may occur following an advanced lung cancer diagnosis, and anyone who has experienced these emotions should know that they are not alone.

Merck, in collaboration with GO₂ Foundation for Lung Cancer (GO₂ Foundation), recently conducted a survey of over 500 U.S. patients, caregivers and health care providers that sheds light on the challenges advanced lung cancer patients face at the time of diagnosis. This survey is the foundation for Worth the Fight: Taking on Lung Cancer, a new initiative that empowers advanced lung cancer patients and their loved ones to take an active role in their cancer care.

In the survey, patients reported feeling scared (56%), depressed (56%), hopeless (41%) and helpless (41%) after learning they have been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Sixty-nine percent of patients felt overwhelmed by the information shared when they received their diagnosis, and 72% believe they may have brought their disease on themselves.

“A diagnosis of any type of cancer can bring fear and uncertainty. Combined with a sense of stigma and shame associated with the disease, advanced lung cancer patients may feel confused and without options,” said Dr. Jacob Sands, thoracic medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Lung cancer stigma arises when others assume that a person could be responsible for bringing this disease upon him or herself. Stigma can cause people to avoid seeking treatment and may be linked to disease-related distress and poor health outcomes. At a time when they need help and encouragement from others the most, people with lung cancer may isolate themselves or hesitate to reach out and ask questions.

To help foster better communication between patients, their loved ones and their health care providers, Merck and GO₂ Foundation developed a downloadable discussion guide with suggested questions for patients to ask their doctor during their next appointment. It is available at www.fightlungcancer.com.

Patients and their loved ones should also consider the tips below:

  • Do your research. Become informed about the disease, ask your doctor for information and connect with others who are also living with advanced lung cancer. Ask about your treatment options.
  • Become an advocate for your own health. Speak up and take control of your path forward. Be empowered to ask about things such as financial resources, benefits and risks of treatment and lifestyle
  • Talk about it. Share with friends and family how you’re feeling; seek out community support groups such as GO₂ Foundation’s

Support Group Network, which can connect you with other people who are living with or have lived with advanced lung cancer.

  • Find activities that bring you joy. Don’t stop doing the things you love to do; instead, adjust them if you have to and continue to seek out positive experiences that can help you

“My goal is to empower my patients, and their loved ones, to take control of their care and understand the many options available to them. I strive to ensure my patients and their caregivers walk out of my office not only well- informed about their treatment options, but also feeling encouraged and motivated to tackle their disease,” said Sands.

An advanced lung cancer diagnosis does not have to mean giving up. Start by talking with your doctor to better understand the treatment options that might be right for you or your loved one. You’re worth the fight.

The Merck logo - Merck, inventing for life
By Merck
For more than a century, Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world's most challenging diseases. Through our prescription medicines, vaccines, biologic therapies and animal health products, we work with customers to deliver innovative health solutions.

Next Avenue brings you stories that are inspiring and change lives. We know that because we hear it from our readers every single day. One reader says,

"Every time I read a post, I feel like I'm able to take a single, clear lesson away from it, which is why I think it's so great."

Your generous donation will help us continue to bring you the information you care about. What story will you help make possible?