Emotional Wellbeing



Mandy Kloppers

How to Cope When a Parent Has Lung Cancer

Lung cancer can be an aggressive diagnosis to deal with. As an adult child, you may be feeling helpless, anxious, and overwhelmed when you learn that your parent has lung cancer. Here are some ways to alleviate these feelings, and help you grapple with this new reality.

Learn about their disease

The first step to becoming comfortable with your parent’s lung cancer diagnosis is to have a deep understanding of what it is they’re up against. All lung cancers are not created equal, and your parent may have different experiences depending on what type of cancer they are dealing with.

There are two main types of lung cancer— small cell lung cancer and non-small lung cancer. Both types are often caused by smoking and have similar symptoms to each other. However, they have very different outcomes, with non-small cell lung cancer having a 64% survival rate and small cell lung cancer only having a 29% survival rate. There are plenty of resources for you to find out if your parent has one of these two diseases.

If your parent has a rare form of lung cancer, your research may look a little different. For example, mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is formed in the lining of the lungs. The cause, treatment options, and outcomes of this cancer differ greatly from the other types of lung cancer. If your parent has mesothelioma, it might be beneficial to read books about mesothelioma and to find resources that discuss this cancer specifically.

By knowing the type of lung cancer your parent has, you can properly manage your expectations on how their journey will likely go.

Spend quality time with them

It can be easy to get wrapped up in your parent’s disease. When you’re trying to remember doctor’s appointments, remember when to take medications, and manage their nutrition and other lifestyle choices, your relationship with your parent can turn into a chore. Even if you’re not the primary caregiver, your conversations can become dominated by how your parent’s cancer is progressing.

Spend some time engaging in hobbies that you and your parents enjoyed doing before they were diagnosed with lung cancer. If your parent now finds those activities to be too strenuous, try to find things that are less taxing for them to participate in. Small things like watching a movie together, playing a board game, or doing a puzzle can help strengthen your relationship, foster lighter conversations, and give your parent an overall better quality of life.

Take care of yourself

It’s impossible to pour from an empty cup. In order for you to be able to support your parent and be there during this difficult time, you need to make sure that you are well taken care of, too. Be sure that you are eating well, exercising, and living an all-around healthy lifestyle. This can help improve your mood and make sure that you’re healthy enough to be there for your parent.

You should also prioritize engaging in activities that give you a break from anything cancer-related. By giving yourself the space to take your mind off the situation, you can relieve some of the anger and tension that can build up from having to spend so much time caring for your parents. Don’t feel guilty for taking the time for yourself.

Find a support group

Sometimes it can feel like the parental/child relationship is reversed when your parent is dealing with lung cancer. This can lead to feelings of isolation and it can feel like the one person you’re used to leaning on is unable to care for your feelings.

A great way to alleviate some of the fear and anxiety of this situation is to lean on others who are going through a similar experience. There are many lung cancer support groups that are held both in person or online, and range from being specific to a type of lung cancer or generic.

Speak to a professional

In addition to leaning on those who are in a similar situation, it may be beneficial to talk to a mental health professional. Dealing with a parent who has a potentially terminal illness can bring up feelings of depression and anxiety that are best treated by a licensed therapist.

If you’re worried that you don’t have enough time to see a therapist in person, consider the benefits of an online therapist. An online therapist can give you the flexibility to have sessions without leaving your parent’s home or the hospital.


This is an extremely emotional time. It’s normal to find yourself feeling angry, scared, overwhelmed, and even apathetic. These tips will hopefully help you to manage your expectations of your parent’s lung cancer journey and help you to take care of yourself.

Photo by Thirdman: 

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