Dealing With the Fear of What Comes Next

Cancer patients can look to nurses for psychological support

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Fear and anxiety of what lies ahead can be overwhelming for folks who have just learned they have lung cancer. They may not know where to turn for comfort and support, and a nurse might be just who they're looking for.

Nurses can play an essential role in calming the fears and distress of people who have recently been diagnosed with lung cancer.

And garnering this support can do more than alleviate anxiety.

"Reach out to a nurse for emotional support during your cancer journey."

Recent research conducted by Rebecca H. Lehto, Ph.D., R.N., O.C.N., assistant professor in the College of Nursing at Michigan State University finds that a lung cancer diagnosis leads to end of life thoughts in many people.

Nurses can help improve an individual's outlook and quality of life during this time, she found.

"People facing life-threatening diagnoses often feel alone, and newly diagnosed lung cancer patients with early stage disease can have concerns about an uncertain future, the potential for treatment failure, the cancer spreading and the possibility of death," Lehto said.

"Health care providers, who are uncomfortable with and avoid discussing end-of-life questions, may contribute to a patient's alienation," she added.

dailyRx spoke to Lehto about her findings and asked her how patients can seek out the support they need.

"Patients can recognize that openly discussing these concerns ought to be acceptable, and can even be helpful. In a busy health care environment, patients may feel overlooked when they are experiencing existentially oriented concerns, Lehto told dailyRx.

"Nurses are trained as patient-centered providers. They are at the forefront of ensuring that patients receive comprehensive support as they navigate through a complex myriad of treatment-related information," she said.

Her research identifies the types of concerns newly diagnosed cancer patients can experience. Lehto also outlines strategies for helping them resolve the perfectly normal but often overwhelming thoughts and feelings.

dailyRx asked which nurses a patient might reach out to for support.

"Patients can approach nurses who are both familiar with the patient and their care, and who are trained oncology nurses," she said.

"As patient advocates, if nurses recognize that the patient is having distressing concerns, they can first of all be a supportive presence who is willing to listen, and then secondly, can assist in guiding the patient to the best resources for their particular concerns."

Lehto's research was published in the March, 2012 issue of the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 7, 2012
Last Updated:
March 7, 2012