Planning for Life with Lung Cancer

No one can predict how long someone will live with lung cancer. You can, however, make plans throughout your care and make your wishes known.

A lung cancer diagnosis can make patients and their caregivers think about difficult topics they may not have explored before. It is inevitable to think about death and what will happen in the future. No one knows exactly what will happen, but it is helpful to make plans for whenever that day comes.

Key Points

  • When end-of-life decisions are made ahead of time, it is less stressful for everyone involved.
  • These discussions will probably lead you to fill out all kinds of paperwork. People can help you do this if it gets confusing or overwhelming.
  • Creating an advance directive (or living will) spells out your end-of-life care choices.

How Do I Make My Wishes Known?

Many people have a specific idea of what they want their end-of-life care to be like. However, there may come a time when you cannot communicate your end-of-life wishes. For this reason, it is important to discuss them with your family and fill out the appropriate paperwork as early as possible. The earlier you discuss what you want, the less stressful it will be for you and your family when it comes time to make decisions about your end-of-life care. Use the topics below as guidelines for important points to discuss with your doctors and caregivers about end-of-life care.

Points for Discussion

  • Get your financial records in order and store them all in one secure place (include account numbers, investments, credit cards, loans, deeds and more)
  • Write a will
  • Create an advance directive (also called a living will). An advance directive outlines your end-of-life medical care choices. See a sample advance directive form or download a state-specific form.
  • Select a power of attorney. A power of attorney designates someone you know and trust to make healthcare and financial decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. They can be two different people or the same person.

End-of-life care wishes will be spelled out in a legal document called an advance directive. Here are some examples of topics you will be asked to make decisions about:

  • Where do you want to receive end-of-life care? The most common choices are the hospital, a hospice facility or a home.
    • Hospice refers to a system of care for dying people and their families. Most hospice care is given at home, but it also can be given in the hospital or a hospice care facility. Hospice care is recommended when life expectancy is six months or less. To learn more about hospice care, call the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization at 1-800-658-8898. Visit nhpco.org to find a hospice program in your community.
  • When do you want to stop receiving lung cancer treatment?
  • Do you want to receive resuscitation if it's necessary or would you prefer a natural death?

Though at first glance this may not be a pleasant topic to discuss or even think about, it is an event that may mean a lot to your family and friends when you are gone. You may have strong feelings about funeral and memorial services. Some people have opinions about the location of these events, participants, music, readings, and cultural and religious customs. Other topics to consider include whether or not to have a service, what type of service to have and whether you'd prefer cremation or burial. Talk to your support system about what you want so they can respect your wishes.

There are many other topics that will be addressed in an advance directive. The doctor can help you get an advance directive form. Your healthcare team can help you navigate the decision making.

Bring It Up with the Doctor

The doctor may not bring up end-of-life issues. It is a difficult topic for even doctors to discuss. The doctor does not want to offend you or make you feel hopeless in the face of lung cancer. Bringing this up might be scary at first, but it helps to open the lines of communication early and throughout your treatment and care journey.

Think about Other Family Members and Friends

This might be time to decide if you want other family members and friends involved in the end-of-life discussion. The lung cancer patient should decide who to talk to about this topic and who should be involved in the decision making.

Support During this Time

Discussing end-of-life care might be scary, stressful and can be depressing. Reach out to your lung cancer support system to cope with your emotions during this time. 

Here are some tips:

  • Journal about your emotions
  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Seek support from your faith-based organization
  • Find in-person or online support groups
  • Speak to a social worker, psychologist or counselor
  • Ask for recommendations from your cancer care team

Discussing end-of-life care can also bring you and your loved ones closer. Revisiting your own memories and life history can be a special time for you and your family that makes dealing with difficult topics easier.

Take Action

Your doctor may not bring up end-of-life planning because they don't want to upset you or diminish your sense of hope. Even though it is scary, start talking about it so you can deal with the logistics and then focus on your lung cancer treatment.

Page last updated: October 14, 2021

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