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Lung cancer can unleash a whirlwind of unexpected emotions and experiences for patients and care partners. You are more than just a patient; more than just a treatment plan.

Whether your concerns are physical, emotional, nutritional, or spiritual, we can help.

More resources for Lung Cancer Whole Patient Support from Patient Empowerment Network.

Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You?

Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When choosing an lung cancer treatment, what should be considered? Dr. Jessica Bauman, a lung cancer specialist, reviews treatment types and key decision-making factors, including how test results influence options and provides advice to help you advocate for better care.

Dr. Jessica Bauman is assistant professor in the department of hematology/oncology and as associate program director of the hematology/oncology fellowship training program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Learn more about Dr. Bauman here.

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See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

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The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit



Hello and welcome. I’m Katherine Banwell, your host for today’s program. Today we’ll discuss how you can be proactive in your lung cancer care to partner with your healthcare team to make the best care and treatment decisions for you. Joining us today is Dr. Jessica Bauman. Welcome, Dr. Bauman. Would you please introduce yourself?

Dr. Bauman:              

Absolutely, thank you so much for inviting me here today. My name is Jessica Bauman, and I am a thoracic and head and neck oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Here I am also the associate program director for our hematology/oncology fellowship program as well as one of the disease site leaders of one of our research teams.


Excellent, thank you. A reminder that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical advice. Please refer to your healthcare team about what might be best for you.

Dr. Bauman, from my understanding, there are two main types of lung cancer – small cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer. Would you provide a brief overview of how these two types of lung cancer differ?

Dr. Bauman:             

Absolutely. So, I think it’s important for any new patient who’s coming in, to see me or any medical provider. The first thing we need to establish when we are thinking about a lung cancer diagnosis is what the cells look like under the microscope. And the simplest way to think about this is either they look like small cell lung cancer, or they look like non-small cell lung cancer.

And that really can decide what kind of treatment we need to pursue. For small cell lung cancer – small cell lung cancer can be a more aggressive lung cancer that certainly can spread throughout the body and requires more urgent treatment in general when we’re thinking about the speed in which we need to start to treat patients for this cancer. For non-small cell lung cancer, in general, we don’t have to start treatment as quickly as we need to for small cell. And there is a lot more information right now that we need other than just the simple non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis. We need to know whether it is adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, which are further subdivided.

And then we often need even more information about those subtypes to be able to decide ultimately what the best treatment plan is.

Overall, I would say about 15% of lung cancers are small cell. So, they’re more rare. And about 80% to 85% of lung cancers are non-small cell. And the most frequent kind of non-small cell lung cancer right now is adenocarcinoma. It didn’t used to be that way. Squamous cell carcinoma actually used to be more common, but in more recent years, adenocarcinoma is becoming more common. And interestingly, it’s also becoming more common in women.


Why is it becoming more common?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, part of that is we think that the demographics are changing somewhat in terms of lung cancers. So, the traditional risk factor, of course, of lung cancer is smoking, however, not all patients who have lung cancer were smokers. And we are seeing, in fact, more people being diagnosed with lung cancer who have never smoked or, in fact, are light smokers. And so, we think that that is likely playing a role.


Before we move into testing and staging, are there any common misconceptions you hear when you see new lung cancer patients for the first time?

Dr. Bauman:              

Sometimes I see people think, “Oh, lung cancer is a death sentence.” I certainly see people say that. But I think that one of the wonderful parts about being a lung cancer oncologist right now is our treatment options have really been revolutionized in the last 10 to 20 years. And we have more options right now, and we have a better understanding of this cancer, then we ever have had.

And so, I do think that I look with more optimism at this diagnosis, obviously, which is still quite devasting to patients and their families.


Right. Dr. Bauman, what testing should take place following a lung cancer diagnosis?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, this very much depends on how the cancer was diagnosed initially. So, some cancers are diagnosed on screening – lung cancer CTs right now – but other cancers are found incidentally, for other reasons. Or there are some that are diagnosed with a scan because somebody’s developing a symptom. So, in general, what I would say is that we always need good imaging essentially of the entire body when a lung cancer is suspected. Often this includes CAT scans, but this very commonly also includes a PET scan. And it will often include a brain MRI as well because the best way to the look at the brain is with an MRI.

Obviously, that can vary a little bit depending on what studies people have already had and what radiologic techniques are most accessible.


What about molecular testing and biopsies?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, sorry, I was sort of going on the imaging. But so, of course, you need full imaging. But the first thing you need to do that is paramount is establishing a histologic diagnosis, which goes to this initial thought of, “Is this small cell? Is this non-small cell? What is it?” So, if there is a lung mass that is suspected to be lung cancer, the first thing that happens is a biopsy as well as imaging. The imaging helps us establish, “Has this gone anywhere else? Does it involve the lymph nodes?” and helps us with the initial staging workup. Often there is a biopsy of the mass itself.

But there are often biopsies as well as the lymph nodes that are involved, in particular in the center of the chest called the mediastinum, because that also helps us establish the stage of the cancer.

And then if the cancer does look to have spread to somewhere else, we sometimes biopsy only that area or that area in addition to establish that it, in fact, has spread to a different place such as the liver or the bone. Once that biopsy is done, and once we know what type of lung cancer it is, then we also send more studies on the biopsy itself that help us determine what the best treatments are, in particular when we’re talking about what I call “systemic treatments.”

So, treatments that are going into the body and all over the body that involved immune therapies, chemotherapies, or targeted therapies. So, that extra testing that we do is something that’s called molecular testing.

It’s also called next generation sequencing. There are a bunch of different terminology that we use.


Okay. Dr. Bauman, would you walk us through how lung cancer is staged? And is it different for small cell vs. non-small cell lung cancer?

Dr. Bauman:              

Absolutely. So, as we talked about, the first thing that we do is we do get a biopsy to establish the diagnosis. The second piece is often if it looks to be a cancer that is only limited to the chest – so there is a mass and maybe some activities in lymph nodes that we’re concerned about but nowhere else – not only do we want to biopsy the mass itself, but we also want to know whether those lymph nodes are involved. So, those are biopsied because that will tell us the stage of the cancer. Staging very much depends on the size of the tumor itself, and then it also depends on, “Has it spread to lymph nodes in the center of the chest, and has it spread outside of the chest to other places?”

And so, early-stage lung cancers are just the primary cancer itself that has not spread anywhere else. More advanced stage lung cancers – things like Stage IIs and Stage III lung cancers – are ones that also involve the lymph nodes. And then a Stage IV lung cancer involves a lung cancer that has spread to somewhere outside of the body. And depending on the stage is really what determines the way we approach treatment for these patients.


And that is actually my next question. What do the results of these tests tell us about prognosis and treatment choices?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, they tell us stage, and, ultimately, prognosis and treatment choices are completely linked to the stage of a cancer. So, an early-stage lung cancer, often a Stage I or Stage II lung cancer, primarily our first choice of treatment is surgery. And if surgery is feasible for the patient – because, of course, it also depends on their other medical comorbidities and whether they can withstand a surgical resection of the cancer.

But usually, early-stage lung cancers we start with surgery. And then depending on what the pathology shows us, we sometimes include a course of chemotherapy afterwards to decrease the risk of the cancer coming back. More advanced lung cancers, so Stage III lung cancers, often involved what we call “multiple modalities.” So, for some patients we do a combination of chemotherapy and radiation in an attempt to cure the cancer. Often that is followed by immunotherapy. There are other patients who have Stage III lung cancer where we do chemotherapy and radiation and follow that with surgery.

So, it’s a very case-dependent decision algorithm, where it really depends on where the tumor is, the type of tumor, what the surgery would be, what the patient’s underlying health status is, etc.

And then if it is a Stage IV cancer, often we are really approaching this with systemic therapies. So, once a cancer has spread outside the lung, we traditionally think of this often as an incurable cancer. And there is a much more limited role of surgery and radiation, though I wouldn’t say that they’re absolutely off the table. Again, we sometimes think of these in sort of a case-by-case scenario. But in general, our approach for a Stage IV cancer is with some kind of systemic therapy. And that completely depends on all those special tests that we do that we were talking about that we send on that initial biopsy.


What about the significance of chromosomal abnormalities?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, what I would say is, what we do for, in particular, in the setting of a Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis right now, is we send molecular testing on the biopsy samples of these patients, in particular if they have adenocarcinoma.

And the reason we do this, what this gives us, is it tells us about the DNA of the tumor, and whether there are genes in the tumor that are changed in some way that are affecting the cancer’s ability to grow. And the reason that’s so important, is there are new treatments that really capitalize on those changes in the tumor to be able to stop the cancer from growing. The best example of this is for people who have something called an EGFR mutation.

And there are multiple different kinds of mutations. I call it “alphabet soup” because there are so many different letters and numbers.

But if people have an EGFR mutation that we think is one of the primary reasons they have this cancer growing, there are pills that target that EGFR protein that stop the cancer from growing. But if they don’t have that mutation, then those pills are not gonna do them any good.

And so, that is really where lung cancer treatment and diagnosis has become so personalized based on, of course the person itself, but also the characteristics of their tumor.


How can patients advocate for a precise lung cancer diagnosis, and why is that important?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, it’s, of course, important because it changes everything that they would be able to be offered in terms of treatment. And so, I think that it is important to, one, really understand what your lung cancer is. Right? What is the stage? What are the treatment options? And if there are treatment options that are not options for you, why is that? And is that because of special testing that has been done? So, I think it’s always important to ask, “Are there other special tests that I need to have on my tumor or on the biopsy?”

And if patients have questions about what options that they have, I think it’s important for them to understand why some options are theirs, and why other options may not be good options for them, and how their physician is making those decisions. Because I do think the more you understand about this, the better you can advocate for the types of treatments you can access.


Absolutely. We just covered some of this, but when deciding on a treatment approach with a patient, what do you take into account when making the decision?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, we take into account all of the things that we’ve been talking about. Of course, the No. 1 most important part is the histology, so what the kind of cancer is. No. 2 is what the stage is. And then No. 3 is the health characteristics of that patient.

Do they have underlying health problems that would impact the types of treatment that we would consider? And then ultimately, what are the goals of the patient? Right? So, of course, we have lots of different options, but it’s going to be important to partner with the patient and their family to understand where they are in their life and what kinds of treatments are feasible and acceptable to them.


What about treatment side effects? Do you take that into consideration?

Dr. Bauman:              

Absolutely. So, I always talk about my two primary goals for when I’m treating a patient is 1.) is to help them live as long as they can, and No. 2 is to help them live as well as they can. And I do think it is critical to understand the side effects of our treatments and how that may impact the patient and what their underlying issues are. So, for example, if I have a patient who comes to me who already has significant neuropathy because of a prior diagnosis of some kind, we need to strongly consider the types of treatments we’re using to consider one that doesn’t cause neuropathy.

Right? And often there are different treatments that we have where we can really consider the side effects and quality of life for patients in terms of what we have. I’ll also say that treatments and the supportive care that we have to offer have become better over time. So, yes, of course, we give toxic treatments, but we definitely are able to support people better with the side effects that they have to try to minimize those and make it as tolerable as we can.


What do you feel is the patient’s role in this decision, and how does shared decision making come into play?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, I think the patient’s role is, of course, this is their body and their lives. Right? I think that it very much is a decision that we make together. And of course, as a lung cancer expert, yes, we’re gonna talk about what we recommend as what we think is, sort of, the gold standard treatment.

But you can’t make anybody do anything. Right? You want people to be their own advocate in terms of their health. And so, I need to know how someone is feeling. I need to know if they’re having significant side effects from treatment. And so, I think the more they can tell me, the more they can ask questions, the more they can understand their illness, the better we can partner to be able to face it together.


Dr. Bauman, now that we’ve discussed factors that go into the treatment choice, would you walk us through the currently available lung cancer treatment approaches and who they might be right for?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, we talked about this a little bit, but I would say, so, certainly, the different types of lung cancer treatment depends on the stage of the cancer.

But in general, I’m thinking about the broad categories that we have. So, number 1 being surgery. So, surgery is absolutely one of the most important aspects of lung cancer treatment that we have and is one of the ways in which it is possible to cure lung cancer. So, surgery can happen both as an open surgery, but there are also more minimally invasive surgeries now that have also revolutionized the way they can do surgery in lung cancer. And so, that absolutely plays a very significant role in the treatment of lung cancer.

The second broad approach that I would say is that of radiation.  So, radiation also plays a very critical role in lung cancer, often more in advanced-stage disease for patients who have, for example, Stage III disease, where the treatment that we consider is a combination of chemotherapy and radiation also with curative intent.

So, the idea behind this is that it’s cancer that is still in the chest, but it has spread to the lymph nodes in the chest, and a combination of chemotherapy and radiation may still be able to cure patients of this cancer. And so, radiation also can play a critical role. And interestingly, in small cell – which we’ve spoken a little bit less about – radiation and chemotherapy play a very important role in small cell, and often surgery plays less of a roll in small cell. And so, our treatment approach using radiation is in both of these kinds of cancers, and often we’re doing a full course of radiation also in an attempt to cure the cancer for the patient.

The last, sort of, broad category of treatment that I would say is what I call “systemic treatments.” So, that is targeted treatment. That is chemotherapy. And that is immune therapy.

And what we use of those three types of treatments completely depends on the patient’s stage and more information about that patient’s tumor, in particular, the molecular testing as well as what we say is called PD-L1, which is a marker on the tumor that tells me about the responsiveness to immunotherapy.

Often, we use a combination of many of these treatments. So, there are patients who get surgery and then chemotherapy. There are patients who get chemotherapy and radiation and then surgery. And there are patients who get only what we call systemic therapies.

I will also say it’s important to note that for radiation, although there’s a proportion of people that we use radiation with curative intent for a long period of time – so, a six-week course of radiation – we also use radiation to help with symptom management if someone’s having a specific problem that’s causing them a symptom where radiation may help.

The classic example of that is pain. So, if they have a spot in the bone that is causing them a lot of pain, a short course of radiation to shrink that tumor where that is, can be very helpful. And so, radiation we can also use to help with palliation of symptoms. The other things that I’m not getting into significantly today, but are also there, are there are other types of procedures that have become more common where you can go in, for example, with an interventional radiologist and do an ablation of a tumor.

Our interventional pulmonologists also do significant amount of ability to access the lungs and the lymph nodes to be able to help with diagnosis, but they can also do something like a debulking procedure where they can get rid of some of the cancer to stop it from bleeding.

They can also stent open the cancer to help people breathe better. So, there are multiple different other team members who also are really critical to our patient’s care.


Yeah. How do clinical trials fit into the treatment plan?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, clinical trials are very important in all of our decision making. So, there are many different kinds of clinical trials, but clinical trials are where we are offering the newest potential treatment options for patients. And there are some clinical trials where it’s a brand-new drug that’s never been in a person before, but there are also clinical trials of drugs that we use from a different disease that has been effective, and now it has good evidence, potentially, in lung cancer, and so it’s being used in lung cancer. There are also trials of new combinations of treatments.

So, for example, one of the most recent, sort of, classic treatment-changing trials was a large trial where everybody who had chemotherapy and radiation for Stage III lung cancer, then received a year of immune therapy vs. not receiving immune therapy to see if that new treatment would help them live longer or would prolong their survival.

And in fact, that trial was very positive, and so it changed the way we treat Stage III lung cancer. So, again, these are just examples of types of clinical trials. But clinical trials are where we are finding out what may be the next best treatments for patients.

And so, when I’m thinking about a treatment approach to a patient, I’m incorporating all of the things that we talked about, but I’m also then thinking about, “Are there clinical trials that may also be relevant to them for their specific situation?” whether that is a clinical trial that involves surgery in some way, or whether that’s a clinical trial that involves a new drug, whether it’s a clinical trial that’s offering a new kind of supportive care.

So, there are lots of different kinds of clinical trials that may be relevant to patients.


Are there emerging approaches for treating lung cancer that patients should know about?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, absolutely. I think that there are so many clinical trials that are going on right now for all sorts of different lung cancers.

I think one of the amazing parts about lung cancer right now is how, as I said before, how personalized it has become, and how each individual, depending all of the different factors we talked about, what treatments are best for them. But it also depends on there also may be clinical trials that are specific for that person. And so, for example, if you have a new diagnosis of Stage IV cancer, and you have an EGFR mutation or an ALK mutation, you want to know about clinical trials that are specific to that population because for you, those are what are most relevant for you.

If you have a new diagnosis of a Stage III lung cancer, then you wanna know, “What are the clinical trial options for patients who have Stage III lung cancer?” And so, there are many clinical trials that are asking, sort of, the next best question of, “How can we improve the current standard of care?” And often there really are trials in each of these different areas. So, it’s not just a one-size-fits-all.


Some patients can be fearful when it comes to clinical trials. What would you say to someone who might be hesitant in participating in one?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, I very much understand that. I think any kind of treatment can be a scary thing. But I think, as I said before, I think the more that you can understand about your cancer and understand about the science and the research, it helps you then understand where the trial fits in terms of your treatment options.

I think that if you understand what to expect from the treatment that you’re getting, and then what the plan B and plan C could look like, I think that piece of it is also important. And you know, I think that one of the hardest parts about lung cancer right now is even though we have all of these new promising therapies and multiple new approved drugs, with a diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer, most of the time the cancer learns to grow. And so, even though we have treatments that work really well, there will be a time for most people where the cancer starts to grow, and we need to think about, “Well, why is the cancer growing?”

And often, that is the setting where clinical trials are very relevant because clinical trials are often thinking about just that, “Well, why is the cancer becoming resistant? What is different about the cancer now? And is there some change that would make it relevant for you to do one specific trial over another specific trial?”


Well, and that leads us to treatment monitoring. Once a patient has started treatment, how do you know if it’s working?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, we do regular imaging. So, once you have a diagnosis of lung cancer, a CAT scanner will become your friend. In general, depending on what stage of lung cancer you have, you will have a bunch of imaging up front, and then once a treatment plan is put into place, after that treatment has either been completed or started, you will be monitored, in general, regularly for the lung cancer diagnosis. Now, after surgery, that will be for more for surveillance to make sure that the lung cancer doesn’t come back. But if it is more in the setting of a Stage IV lung cancer, then the imaging really helps us determine, “Is the treatment working or not?”

And so, after we start a treatment, usually anywhere between six and eight weeks, we repeat imaging to see, “Is this working? Is it smaller? Is it the same? Has it grown?”

And based on that imaging, and based on how the patient is doing with the treatment, we then decide, “Do we continue this treatment, or do we need to change to a new treatment?” And so, we regularly monitor the patient’s cancer through regular imaging.


Let’s talk about patient self-advocacy. Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with their comments and questions. But why is it important for patients to speak up when it comes to their symptoms and their side effects?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, this, I would say, it’s a partnership. The bottom line is, and if I don’t know that something is going on, I can’t help to solve the problem. And if I don’t know about something, a new symptom that could be, potentially, majorly concerning, patients can also get really sick or even end up in life-threatening situations. And so, ignoring things or just hoping things will go away is not in a patient’s best interest.

I think that it is critical that patients are their own self-advocate. I think that I say that often, and I’ve already said that a couple of times on this, but we don’t know unless we’re hearing from them what’s going on. And so, it is so important for patients to keep us updated if they’re worried about something. Certainly, we see them very frequently, and so they can often tell us at their visits what’s going on. But overall, the in-between time is just as critical because it is often the treatments that we give can cause side effects at any time. And so, it is really important that we know about anything that’s going on and for patients to always give us a call.

I mean, that’s the bottom line is, is that if they’re worried about something, we need to know about it.


What supportive care options are there for patients who may have pain management difficulties or even emotional support?  Where do they start?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, there are often many different kinds of supportive care for patients. I would say that oncologists, of course, are one layer of supportive care. We do a lot of help with symptom management and often even pain management as well as coping and emotional support. However, there are also other people often within cancer centers that are also available to help. And this includes social workers. It also includes psychologists and psychiatrists.

And then the other thing that I think is really important to mention is that we know for patients who have lung cancer or an advanced lung cancer diagnosis, that integrating a palliative care team – a supportive and palliative care team – early into their diagnosis actually helps them live longer as well as better. They have better quality of life, and they have decreased problems with mood.

And so, we know that supportive care and palliative care, specifically in lung cancer, is particularly helpful for both patients and their caregivers. And so, it’s important for patients to also know that there is a whole team, that I think of as, sort of, an extra layer of support, that can help them with symptom management as well as with coping with the day-to-day of what can be a devastating diagnosis.


Yeah. That’s really great advice. To close, what would you like to leave patients with? Are you hopeful?

Dr. Bauman:              

So, I would say I am absolutely hopeful. I think that it is so important to know how many changes have happened in lung cancer in the last decades and how much more research is going on everyday to try to improve the care that we can deliver. And so, it’s a great time to be a lung cancer oncologist.

But we also have so much more work to be done.


Dr. Bauman, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Bauman:              

Absolutely, my pleasure.


And thank you to our audience for joining us as well. Please fill out the survey that you’ll receive following the program. It helps us to plan future lung cancer programming. And thank you to all of our partners.

To learn more about lung cancer and to access tools to help you become a more proactive patient, visit I’m Katherine Banwell. Thanks for joining us.


The Power of Journaling During Cancer Treatment

There are two ways to fight cancer, both of which are equally as important. The first is physical and the second mental. Journaling might not be able to help with the physical symptoms, but easing the mind can truly help in such situations.

By providing a safe place to store your thoughts and experiences, you will be able to find a great source of power. If you have never thought about journaling before, this might be the perfect time for you to give it a try. Here are some important reasons why this might be a very great decision.

1. Keeping track of all important moments

Some people believe that battling cancer is only filled with negative moments and experiences. While that is true to a big extent, there can be plenty of memorable moments that you might want to keep track of. The beginning of your treatments is a moment that you can write about and think about when this situation is over.

Other important moments might include family gatherings, important presents you might receive, very bad and very good days that stand out in your treatment course. Just because a day way difficult doesn’t mean it should be considered bad. At the end of this difficult journey, you will be able to look back at everything you wrote and remember the good and bad times.

2. Helping ease certain symptoms

Another great reason why journaling can truly help cancer patients during their treatments is because of symptom management. Research has actually shown that journaling can help with combating symptoms and dealing with the physical size of things.

Writing about how you feel and what you are going through can help you sleep better and feel more energetic. Getting plenty of rest will allow you to feel less nauseous, be in a better mood and battle everything with a stronger will. The more you face your symptoms, the stronger you will feel through your treatment.

3. Fighting against the stress

The stress that can be caused by such a difficult diagnosis is great and can truly affect your mood and outlook on life. Being under stress can make you feel tired, mess up your sleeping schedule and make you feel more negative about everything. This is not ideal for any situation you are in in your life and there are ways to overcome it.

Journaling can provide you with a safe space to write everything you have in your mind. During your treatments, you will possibly want to appear strong in front of your family and you might not want to share everything you feel. You can write all your thoughts in your journal and let everything out. This way you will be able to handle everything you face and feel a lot less stressed.

4. Reminding yourself of things you love

When dealing with any hardship in life, it is important to keep thinking of things that bring you joy. Journaling has helped me create a notebook full of memories, which I can go through any time I need some positivity in my life. You don’t only have to put words into it but anything and everything that makes you think of memories and people you hold dear.

In your journal you can keep stickers, receipts, drawings and cards from loved ones. Then you can write how receiving these things made you felt. When the days get difficult and you are struggling, open your journal again. Read through everything nice you have collected and it can help you remember all the reasons why this difficult process is worth it.

5. Seeing all the progress you have made

Last but not least, another important reason why journaling is so helpful during cancer treatment is that it can help keep track of your progress. There are going to be many days that will be hard and many that will be good and filled with hope. In order to be able to go through both, it is important that you keep track of everything new that happens in your journey.

The good days will help you remember that things will get better. The difficult days will allow you to live in the moment and work on staying positive. Journaling this experience can also help your family better understand what goes on in your head and how they can help. After you have successfully put this difficult period of your life behind, you can even share your story with other patients through your journal.

Battling cancer every way possible

Journaling is a creative and fun activity that can help you deal with certain symptoms and negative thoughts during your treatment. Even if you have little experience with writing, journaling gives you the chance to get creative. You don’t need any special skills in order to journal. You just need a notebook, some fun colors and a few thoughts in your head.

Through writing about your experiences, you will be able to express how you feel and let everything run its course. This treatment course might be tough, but writing everything down will help you see just how much progress you are making. This can truly help you feel stronger mentally and physically and overcome this situation like a true warrior!

Key Next Steps After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis: Expert Advice

Key Next Steps After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis: Expert Advice from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Following a lung cancer diagnosis, the actions that a patient takes may impact their long-term care and treatment options. Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer specialist, lists key steps a patient should consider post-diagnosis.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

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Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? Why You Should Seek a Second Opinion

Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? An Expert Outlines Key Steps


Dr. Erin Schenk:

As a medical oncologist who takes care of lung cancer patients, I would recommend that if you or a loved one are diagnosed with lung cancer, going to your meeting with the cancer doctor report the surgeon or the radiation doctor with a couple of main questions to ask in order to better understand your diagnosis and the treatment options.

So, the first one is what stage and stage is a descriptor that we use that talks about how far the lung cancer has spread if it’s spread at all. And sometimes, this involves additional testing to give you the best, most accurate answer. Oftentimes, patients are diagnosed with scans, but what’s also – excuse me, scans of the chest, but what’s also really important is better understanding whether or not lymph nodes in the middle of the chest are also involved.

This can require either a PET scan or occasionally procedures where tissue, the lymph nodes biopsied, and tissue samples are taken to see if the lung cancer has spread to those lymph nodes. PET scans are also able to better tell us whether or not lung cancer has spread outside of the lungs. And additionally, and MRI of the head can often be a really critical piece of information to better understand whether or not the lung cancer has spread to the brain. Unfortunately, lung cancer is one of those cancers that can spread to the brain tissue.

So, the first piece of information and more tests might be needed, is stage.

The second piece of information that’s very important is what type of lung cancer, and sometimes, this occurs hand-in-hand with better understanding stage. Usually, this involves a biopsy, so a sample of the tissue needs to be taken and then looked at underneath a microscope by a pathologist who are doctors who help us identify which type of lung cancer it is that a patient has. And then the final thing to ask your care team or your doctor is do I need additional molecular testing?

Molecular testing is a critical piece of information in order for doctors like me to help take care of lung cancer patients. Molecular testing lets us know what role immunotherapy might play in your diagnosis. It also lets us know whether or not targeted therapy which are oral pills we sometimes call TKIs are appropriate for your disease and your stage. These pieces of information, so stage, what type of lung cancer, and if molecular testing is necessary, these are, I think, the three critical pieces that you need going forward to help your cancer doctor and team better formulate a plan that is right for you.

Finally, I’d like to add in that if you are in a situation where you would like a second opinion, or you would like to get more thorough answers, I would encourage you to look for an academic center or a large medical center that has specialists who focus in on lung cancer. We are often very happy to see patients and talk with them about their treatment plan if any other tests or evaluations are needed to help you feel confident in the plan that your doctors closer to home have put together. That’s it.

Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment

Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer expert and researcher, explains why patients with lung cancer should consider a clinical trial and the role trials plays in clinical care.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Lung Cancer Treatment: What Is Immunotherapy?

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options


Dr. Erin Schenk:

We have a very active clinical trial practice in the lung cancer world for one reason alone, and that’s that while our current therapies are good, we can still do better. Lung cancer accounts for significant cancer-related deaths in the United States and the world. And we wanna work to try and improve how well patients do and also improve how many patients we are able to cure. Clinical trials can be at any step of your workup or treatment.

So, even patients with earlier-stage disease meaning lung cancer where we can resect it with surgery, there are a number of clinical trials going on right now to try to better improve the outcomes we see with our normal standards of care. So, whether you are having a lung cancer removed by surgery whether you’re receiving chemotherapy and radiation and immunotherapy whether your lung cancer has happened to spread outside of the lungs, there are clinical trials available at every step in the game.

And I would really encourage you to ask your cancer care team or your doctor about whether or not clinical trials might be available in your area. Because often, they can help identify new targets or other ways of trying to attack the vulnerabilities of your lung cancer.

If you are considering a clinical trial, there are a number of important questions to find out from the clinical trial team as well as your cancer care team. Some of the things are really practical, logistical questions and one of those is, “How often do I need to come to clinic? How many more schedule visits do I need?”

Usually, with clinical trials, upfront so before you get on the clinical trial or once you start receiving the clinical trial medicine or therapy, often there are more frequent visits in that initial time period. But after things are – after you’ve had several treatments with the trial medicine, often it becomes more standard of care meaning visiting once every three weeks for blood work and a visit with your team and then infusion.

So, it’s often a little more work up front, and then it gets back to the usual expectations of how often you have to be in our offices. So, I think those logistical concerns are very real because especially for larger institutions, sometimes, coming to our campuses can be a bit of a challenge. So, that would be one. I would recommend discussing logistics. Discussing with your team as to why they think this would be a trial for you is important.

Occasionally, we are able to screen for certain markers or certain things that are expressed on the cancer cells and then match you with clinical trials that try to target those specific molecules or proteins or flags that are on the surface of the cancer cell. So, oftentimes, we try to match patients up to a specific clinical trial, so better understanding why that one was recommended. And then I would ask your team to also discuss what are the side effects that have been noticed.

Often with these clinical trial medicines, we don’t have a lot of experience with how well patients do on these therapies. But sometimes, we can give you an idea in terms of what we expect and what we will watch closely for. So, I think logistics are important, why your doctor or your cancer team thinks this is a good trial for you, and then finally, what sort of side effects have been noticed as best we can tell with this new trial medicine.

Lung Cancer Treatment Advances: What are Antibody Drug Conjugates?

Lung Cancer Treatment Advances: What are Antibody Drug Conjugates? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer expert, discusses emerging research around antibody drug conjugates (ADC) and how this therapy works to treat patients with lung cancer.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Lung Cancer Treatment: What Is Immunotherapy?

Why You Should Consider a Clinical Trial for Lung Cancer Treatment

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options


Dr. Erin Schenk:

Some interesting research that’s coming to the forefront in the lung cancer field are using new medicines called antibody-drug conjugates. And so, these medicines, I think of as another type of targeted therapy. So, what happens is that cancer cells express certain proteins or certain flags on their surface that aren’t often found on other normal cells.

And what these ADC drugs are able to do is that they’re able to seek the cells that express certain flags, and then deliver a chemotherapy payload directly to those cancer cells. One trial from the recent ASCO annual meeting from this year, 2020, was looking at an ADC that targeted HER2 which can sometimes be over-expressed by lung cancer cells.

And they had good initial reports in terms of patients being able to have disease control for some time and minimal side effects.

So, I think in general the idea of ADCs or looking for surface markers on the cancer cells to try to in a more targeted fashion deliver the chemotherapy payload, I think this is a really exciting area of investigation as well as a new potential therapy for our patients with lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Treatment: What Is Immunotherapy?

Lung Cancer Treatment: What Is Immunotherapy? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Erin Schenk, a lung cancer specialist, provides an in-depth explanation of what immunotherapy is, and its role in treating lung cancer.

Dr. Erin Schenk is an assistant professor in the division of medical oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center. Learn more about Dr. Schenk and her lung cancer research here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Lung Cancer Treatment Advances: What are Antibody Drug Conjugates?

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? An Expert Outlines Key Steps

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research


Dr. Erin Schenk:

Immunotherapies are powerful new medicines that we available to us as medical oncologists and especially within patients with lung cancer. Immunotherapies are medicines that help to activate your body’s own defenses to go seek out and kill the cancer cells.

So, immunotherapies prevent stop signs on the cancer cells.

What happens is that as the cancer cells grow and as they become more resistant to your body’s natural defenses, it puts up certain stop signs. And these stop signs prevent your body’s immune system from attacking them. Immunotherapies, basically, it cuts off that stop sign so that your immune cells can go and attack the cancer cells.

Immunotherapies play a role in the treatment of many lung cancer patients, nearly all. So, immunotherapy has recently found a role in curative-intent therapy meaning we give these treatments to you to try and cure you of your cancer completely. And that’s in patients who have advanced lung cancer that they can’t surgically resect, or it’s not safe or feasible to cut out, but it hasn’t spread to anywhere else in the body.

So, often, those patients receive chemotherapy and radiation together, and then they receive immunotherapy for a year. So, that’s one set of patients we treat with immunotherapy. And then most other patients with lung cancers especially metastatic lung cancer or cancer that’s spread elsewhere in the body, immunotherapy plays a role in treatment regardless of what type of lung cancer that you have with a couple exceptions which I’ll get to.

So, first, if patients have small cell lung cancer that has spread in other parts of the body, immunotherapy’s an important part of the initial treatment regimen combined with chemotherapy. That’s one of the first advances in decades for patients with small-cell lung cancer. The other situation where we use immunotherapy in metastatic disease is with non-small cell lung cancer. And here we have data and studies to support the use of immunotherapy either alone or in combination with chemotherapy medicines.

And the determinate, there’s a number of factors we use to help determine whether a patient can get immunotherapy alone or immunotherapy in combination with chemotherapy, that’s based on PD-L1 status. So, that’s the immunotherapy marker that we look for on cancer cells. If the PD-L1 status is high enough on the cancer cells, we can discuss with our patients using immunotherapy alone.

If that PD-L1 marker on the cancer cells is not high, then we can use immunotherapy plus chemotherapy in our patients. One area where we’re still not quite sure how to best use immunotherapy are in patients with driver mutations or some of these mutations that we look for with special molecular testing like EGFR, ALK fusions, ROS1 fusions.

What we’ve been learning over time is that immunotherapy alone does not appear to help patients do better for longer. We’ve also been learning through clinical trials that immunotherapy combined with TKIs which is the targeted therapy patients receive if they have one of these driver mutations, that does not appear to be effective or safe from some of these early clinical trials.

There’s some debate right now amongst my national/international colleagues as to whether or not giving immunotherapy plus chemotherapy is the right choice for these patients after TKIs or targeted therapies stop working. It’s really up to the discussions that you have with your doctor and whether or not they think immunotherapy and chemotherapy could be right in that situation.

Take Care of Yourself and Your Family’s Health

Building Resilience and Boosting Immunity

At a time when health is top of mind for everyone, despite the stressors, how can we ensure to emerge emotionally, physically and mentally resilient? Patient Empowerment Network Care Partner Manager, Sherea Cary sits down with distinguished guests, Sara Goldberger and Dr. Shivdev Rao to discuss building resilience and boosting immunity. Both experts define resilience, provide tips for boosting heart-lung health and provide useful tools for cultivating resilience.

Defining Resilience

Defining Resilience from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Tips for Boosting Heart and Lung Health

Tips for Boosting Heart and Lung Health from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Community Resources & Tools for Cultivating Resilience

Community Resources and Tools for Cultivating Resilience from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Oncology Social Worker Checklist

Resiliency Checklist During the Time of COVID-19

Sara Goldberger, MSSW, LCSW-R, has been an oncology social worker for 30 years. Currently she is the Senior Director, Program for the Cancer Support Community Headquarters. She has also worked in hospitals and community NFP settings. She is a member of several Advisory Boards is a frequent presenter and author. As AOSW strives to continue to advance excellence in psychosocial oncology, Sara hopes to play a part in efforts to educate, advocate, develop resources, expand on research initiatives, and create networking opportunities so that AOSW can improve the care of people impacted by a cancer diagnosis.

Turning Your Home Into a Sanctuary

In Five Simple Steps

These days, whether you’re spending more time there or you need a place to unwind after a long day, you need to feel like your home is your happy place. With the help of a few simple tips you can turn your home into your very own sanctuary.

1. Define your sanctuary

Think about where and when you feel the most comfortable and happy; then bring elements of that into your space. Whether you feel your best reading under a cozy blanket and low lighting, or painting in a sunlit room, consider your needs for the space. It doesn’t have to be complicated, says Professional Organizer Kristy Potgieter at KLP Organizing, LLC. Her philosophy is: simple is better.

2. Appeal to the senses

Sound, smell, and color can all evoke emotions. Play music that soothes you or makes you happy, use candles, oils, or incense to fill your space with your favorite scents, and paint your walls with neutral or calming colors. Even changing out your light bulbs can make a difference. Pink light bulbs give a warm, calm glow to your space.

3. Ditch the clutter

Clutter causes anxiety and stress so your best bet is to get rid of it. While clutter looks different to everyone, a good rule of thumb is to remove anything that doesn’t serve a purpose or make you happy. For the things you use on a regular basis, Potgieter recommends storing them in baskets and bins, which can be both decorative and functional. She also says keeping your kitchen counters clear is a simple way to make your home appear clutter-free.

4. Bring nature inside

You can place a vase of fresh-cut flowers on your table or bring in some house plants. If you don’t have a green thumb, a photo of the ocean, a wall painted green, a water fountain, some seashells, or a piece of wood are all okay ways to incorporate nature into your home. It can be as simple as opening a window and letting in the sunlight, which is a known mood booster.

5. Unplug from technology

You don’t have to ban technology altogether, but pick times, such as during meals and the hour before bed, to not use technology at all. Spend less time on social media platforms by deleting the apps on your phone and only using your computer to log onto those sites. You can also use the “do not disturb” settings on your devices to allow yourself some down time.


Whatever you do, remember Potgieter’s philosophy and keep it simple. Address the things that are most important to you and let the other stuff go. “The first thing I think of when making a home a sanctuary is really taking a look around and making sure all the things you see are things you love,” she says.

Daily Practices for Cultivating Awareness and Anchoring Yourself in Resilience

Resilience is our capacity to bounce back from the inevitable challenges of being alive. When challenges arise, our meandering minds can take us into various worrisome directions, leading to a host of negative emotional states and their subsequent adverse effects on our well-being.

Although we may not have control over the external factors in our lives or needless to say our genetic predispositions, we do have the capacity to cultivate inner psychological faculties that enable us to weather the storms of life with relative calm. For most of us, these internal resources are underdeveloped. They require intentional cultivation through the regular practice of actions that support their development. Among these inner resources are self-awareness, self-acceptance, and a secure inner base to fall back on.

What is Resilience?

What is Resilience? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Anchoring the Mind

Anchoring the Mind from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Focusing the attention on the natural breathing process and body cultivates self-awareness and tends to have a calming effect on the mind. By doing so non-judgmentally, we accept the process as it is truly experienced. This is not an advocation of apathy towards our lives. To the contrary, by shining the light of awareness on our experience and accepting it as it truly is, we are given a clarity from which to make any necessary course corrections in our lives.

Awareness of Breath

Awareness of Breath from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Awareness of Body

Awareness of Body from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

A secure base is supported by continually returning our attention to our breath and body when distracted by the meandering nature of the mind. By regularly practicing the activities here offered you can enhance your capacity to bounce back and calmly weather the fluctuating trials of life.

Broderick Rodell has a PhD in chemical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University. His search for self-betterment led to his passion for mindfulness. He considers himself a dedicated student and practitioner of yoga including contemplation, meditation, breath work, and mindful movement. Broderick believes that through individual evolution we can all tap into greater possibilities within ourselves.

PEN-Powered Activity Guide

How Can You Best Support A Friend With Cancer?

What happens when someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer?

How do you find the right words to say?

What is the best way to support them?

And how do you cope with your own emotions and feelings at the same time?

In this month’s article, I am sharing advice that comes directly from those who have personal experience of cancer – either as a patient themselves or as a friend or family member to someone with cancer.  The following tips are some of the things that friends said and did that were most helpful to cancer patients at the time of diagnosis and treatment.

Firstly, acknowledge that this can be a hard time for you too

Hearing that a friend has been diagnosed with cancer may impact you in ways that you might not be prepared for.  You may have many different emotions to cope with. You may feel angry, sad, and scared that this is happening to your friend. You may even find the news hard to take in and feel numb.   Breast cancer survivor, Nicole McClean[1] describes her feelings of numbness on hearing the news that her best friend was diagnosed with the same disease:  “I didn’t know what to feel. I didn’t know what to say. Everything I had said to other people didn’t really apply because this was MY friend. Not a stranger that I was comforting. Not even myself that I had to give a pep talk to.”

But don’t make it about you

In the shock of hearing about a friend’s diagnosis, it can be tempting to slip into a place of dwelling on your own fears and anxieties.  Nicole cautions others not to make this about themselves. “Please don’t be a friend like me. Don’t be the friend who makes the person with the diagnosis have to stop her own grieving to console you,” she says. “This is her moment. Her time to BE consoled. I don’t ever want her to feel like she needs to console me or comfort me during this time. That’s no longer her role. It is now mine.”

Just ask what’s needed

“My number one tip,” says radiation oncologist, Dr Matthew Katz (@subatomicdoc),  is “just ask what you can do to help. It can be hard to predict and may vary at different times in the cancer experience.”  Breast  surgeon, Dr Deanna Attai (@DrAttai) agrees: “Ask the patient what do you need, ask if they just want some company to sit, listen and be present.”

Above all, advises author and advocate, Nancy Stordahl (@NancysPoint) “don’t try to be a fixer and please, avoid using platitudes. Don’t tell her she’s strong, brave or courageous. Don’t add to her burden by making her feel she must live up to some gold standard of “doing cancer right”. Let her be real. Witness her pain. Listen. Just be there.”

Listen, hear and do

“The steps to being a good friend and supporter are simple”, says Nicole, “Listen and do.”  The first part is listening. “Listen to her. Or just sit with her silently. But either way, give her space where she’s comfortable sharing with you what’s in her heart without that moment becoming about you.“  

John Moore (@john_chilmark), founder of Chilmark Research, echoes this when he says: “Listen, truly listen and they will open up in time to the fear they hold within – just how scary it can be at times.”

Julia, co-founder of online breast cancer support community @BCCWW agrees. “Listen and hear,” she advises,  “if they have bad days let them, cancer isn’t fun times. Flip side: if they feel good, believe them.”

And it’s ok to not know what to say sometimes.

“Something that I think is helpful is for friends and family to remember that it’s okay if you don’t know what to say to the person with cancer,” explains Lisa Valentine (@HabitgratLisa), ·who blogs at “Show up, say “I don’t know what to say, but I am here for you.” Take it from there. Showing up and listening usually takes care of what can happen next.”

HER2 breast cancer patient, Tracy (@tracyintenbury) suggests offering to go to “chemo sessions if the person with cancer would otherwise be attending alone.”  Metastatic breast cancer patient, Ilene Kaminsky (@ilenealizah) appreciated those who attended medical appointments with her “especially during the first months when everything seemed to proceed at the pace of tar, and again during critical appointments/ chemo days.”

Do what needs to be done

Don’t ask her what she needs, just do something that she needs,”  recommends Nicole. “Show up, and help out.” Chair of Cardiomyopathy, CR UK patient board and NCRI rep for kidney and bladder cancer, Alison Fielding (@alisonfielding) agrees: “Make specific offers of help such as lifts, company or chores rather than waiting to be asked.”

“Anyone who said let me know if you need anything wasn’t going to get an answer,” explains Ilene “so during difficult times, one or two of my friends would do my wash, change the sheets and put the clothes away. She’d bring me smoothies while I’d be knocked out from my pre-taxol Benadryl and knew exactly what I’d like.”

Clinical Professor of Pathology, Dr David Grenache (@ClinChemDoc), cautions following through with offers of help. “From experience: when you tell them you will do what you can to help, then follow through with that when you are asked for help.  You may have to drop a high priority task but when the call for help comes. Go!” 

Victoria (@terrortoria), founder and community manager of @YBCN_UK (which supports young women with breast cancer), recalls a friend who “made home made soup for me when I told her I couldn’t bring myself to eat things. She left them on my doorstep as I couldn’t bring myself to see people either for a time. It was a 90-minute round trip for her. She’d listened to how I felt and then helped me within my limits.”

This theme of cooked meals comes up again and again. 

“Cook meals so the person with cancer has something warm and nutritious,” recommends Tracy.  Maureen Kenny (@MaureenKenny1), a patient living with secondary breast cancer, agrees, saying “you can never go wrong with a cooked meal.”

After a long day in hospital, breast cancer patient advocate, Siobhan Feeney (@BreastDense)  recalls the day she came home to find “in the porch, cooked dinner, homemade bread, marmalade and fresh eggs.” A gift she says she’ll never forget. 

Alleviating the pressure of cooking and housework is a super practical way to help a friend with cancer. Sarah Connor (@sacosw), shares a story about her neighbor who “came once a week, took away a basket of dirty clothes, brought them back washed, dried, ready to put away. She didn’t know me very well. Still makes me tingle.”

Give thoughtful gifts

From warm socks and soft blankets to body lotion and lip balm, there are many gifts you can bring a friend who is going through treatment. Beverly A. Zavaleta MD[2], author of Braving Chemo, writes:  “Each time someone sent me a gift I felt a connectedness to the giver and to the “outside world,” which was a welcome escape from the cancer world that I was living in… when I received a gift, I appreciated the time that that person took to remember me, to think of what I might need and to choose, assemble or make the gift.”

Breast cancer survivor, Karen Murray (@murraykaren) recommends practical gifts like “hand cream (skin very dry after chemo), gel for mouth ulcers (also common), some nice sweets/fruit.”

Male breast cancer survivor, Dennis Keim (@denniskeim) suggests “a jar of Aquaphor might be a nice gift. Especially if their skin is getting hammered by chemo.”

“Help the cancer patient pamper themselves,” proposes Lisa Valentine. “You know your friend or family member well enough–get them something they wouldn’t get themselves because they would think it’s extravagant–i.e. the expensive chocolate or a pedicure.” What may seem like an indulgence can also be extremely practical. “Taking me for gel nails protected my ever softening nails,” explains Ilene Kaminsky.

Although be mindful that not everyone appreciates the same things. 

“I wasn’t interested in toiletries, candles. Wine gums – they mask the taste of a nasty pre-chemo antiemetic,” says Syliva (@SylviaB_). “People often think buying flowers is naff. I adored it when people bought me flowers. A couple of people bought spectacular flowering plants.”  Breast cancer blogger, Sheri[3] received the fabulous gift of a monthly subscription to in-home flower deliveries during treatment.

Help with treatment decisions

If you have already been through cancer yourself, your friend may turn to you for treatment advice. You can guide them to helpful resources  and share your own experience, but ultimately the final decision is theirs alone. Sometimes you may not agree about treatment decisions. This can be hard for both of you. Try to accept this and support their decision. “I think not being critical with someone’s choices is very important. Support should not be in spite of circumstances,” says Ilene Kaminsky.

Offer compassion and kindness

Two-times breast cancer survivor and patient advocate Terri Coutee[4] believes the best gifts you can offer a friend is compassion and kindness. “Hold a hand if you are with a friend or loved one in person,” she advises. “You don’t even have to say anything. Perhaps your warm, human touch is enough. Tell them you have no idea how they are feeling at the moment but want to support them in any way you can. Be sensitive to the fact they may only need someone to listen, not advise.”

John Hanley (@ChemoCookery) considers “small practical actions and warm, soothing, short reassuring words are perfect.” Words like “I’m going nowhere and I’ll be here shoulder to shoulder when you need me. A little note/text/card “Here for you 24/7 anytime.”A HUG, an Embrace, a hand, eye contact.”

Sara Liyanage, author of Ticking Off Breast Cancer [5]  reminds us that “a cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down and overnight you can become scared, emotional, vulnerable and anxious. Having friends and family step up and show kindness is a lifeline which can carry you through from diagnosis to the end of treatment (and importantly, beyond).”

Treat your friend like you normally would

Researcher, Caroline Lloyd (@TheGriefGeek), cautions us not to “make it all about the cancer, they are still a person.”  Writer and metastatic breast cancer patient, Julia Barnickle (@JuliaBarnickle) agrees. “I prefer to keep conversation as normal as possible for my own sake – I don’t want cancer to take over my life.”

Stage 4 melanoma patient advocate, Kay Curtin (@kaycurtin1) suggests you talk to your friend “like you would any friend. We haven’t suddenly become aliens who require a different style of language,”  she points out.  Sherry Reynolds (@Cascadia), whose Mom is a 15-year metastatic breast cancer patient, talks about how her mother “really appreciated it when people talked to her about regular things vs always talking about her cancer or asking how she was doing. She was living with her cancer, it wasn’t who she is.”

Know when to back off

“What I didn’t want, which is equally important, was people trying to encourage me to go anywhere or do anything,” says Syliva (@SylviaB_).“ I spent a lot of time on my sofa and felt guilty saying no to people who wanted me to go out.”

Knowing when to be there for your friend, and when to give them space isn’t always easy.  but it’s an important balancing act as a good friend.  In Tips for Being A Great Cancer Friend, Steve Rubin,[6] points out that “sometimes, the overstimulation from nurses popping in, PT sessions, and all the tests/drug schedules can become so exhausting that you just want to be left alone. Other times, the loneliness kicks in and you could really use a friendly face.”

It may take time to find the right balance, so let your friend guide you.   Nicole McClean shares her experience with her friend: “I haven’t spoken to her a lot. I didn’t want to become that sort of pesky, well-intentioned friend who searched for every little thing that might show how she was feeling at any particular moment.  Because I know that her feelings would change from moment to moment and sometimes… sometimes it’s just too much to have someone repeatedly ask you… “how are you really feeling?” even when you know they mean well. At this point, I am letting her guide me into how much she needs me and where she wants me to be.”  

At the same time, Terri Coutee advises gentle persistence:  “Don’t give up if you offer help and they don’t respond. Revisit your offer to do something for them with gentle persistence. One day they may decide they need your help,”  she says.  Maureen Kenny recalls “a friend who texted me every time she was about to go shopping to see if I needed/wanted anything while she was out. I rarely did but I always really appreciated her asking.”

Make your support ongoing

Support is not just one and done.  In the shock and drama of a crisis, friends rally round, but once the shock has worn off many disappear. True friends stick around long after the initial days, weeks and months of a cancer diagnosis. Ilene asks that friends continue to“remember birthdays, cancerversaries, and remember me on holidays. A card means a lot even to just say hi.”

Final thoughts

Many studies have found that cancer survivors with strong emotional support tend to better adjust to the changes cancer brings to their lives, have a more positive outlook, and often report a better quality of life. Research has shown that people with cancer need support from friends. You can make a big difference in the life of someone with cancer. [7]

“I personally loved just knowing I was cared for, says lobular breast cancer campaigner, Claire Turner (@ClaireTTweets). “A number of friends didn’t contact me or come and see me and that hurt, so simply be there in whatever way means something,” she advises.

“The truth is basic,” says Nicole McClean, “nobody wants somebody they love to go through cancer. Especially if they’ve been through it themselves. You want people you love to be spared this type of hardship. But you can’t protect them from it. You can only help them through it. Be there for them in the ways that they need.”

Tailoring your help to what your friend needs and enjoys most is the best way to be a friend to them. As four-times cancer survivor Sarah Dow (@he4dgirl) points out “the answers will surely be as varied as we are, both in life generally, our experience of cancer, and our connection with our friend.”

[1] Nicole McClean. My Fabulous Boobies.

[2] Beverly A. Zavaleta MD, The Best Gifts For Chemotherapy Patients

[3] Life After Why

[4] Terri Coutee, DiepCJourney

[5] Sara Liyanage, “What To Do (And What Not To Do) For Someone With Breast Cancer”

[6] Steve Rubin, The (Other) C Word

[7] American Cancer Society, “How to Be a Friend to Someone With Cancer”

Understanding Patient-Centered Care via Alliance for Patient Access

The Alliance for Patient Access created a video to help you understand patient-centered care.

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research

What You Need to Know About Lung Cancer Research from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

As a lung cancer patient, why should you stay informed about research? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews what patients need to know.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Trustworthy Resources to Help You Learn More About Lung Cancer

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment  Options

Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? Why You Should Seek A Second Opinion

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Dr. Wakelee:

So, there’s so much happening in lung cancer research now, it is hard to really narrow it down to one thing to be specifically excited about. Where we have made so much progress in particular is with target treatments, and also with immune therapy. So, when we think about the targeted treatments, it’s only been about 15 years since we first learned about drugs that would specifically target the EGFR gene mutations.

And when we found a tumor with an EGFR gene mutation, we then had a medication we could give that would work better than chemo. And now we have five EGFR drugs available in the US. And then we found out about this ALK gene mutation that happen in some tumors. Now we have five drugs that work there. And the with ROS1, that was found, and now we’ve got four drugs that work there that are approved.

And it seems that we keep learning about more and more mutations, so those are mutations called NTRK and BRAF. And with all of those, we now have drug treatments, so it’s been very, very rapid discovery of specific gene mutations and drugs that work for that. And I think we’re continuing to see new targets being identified and new drugs being found.

And also, when those drugs stop working, better understanding why and what we can do to help them work longer, or what we can give next. So, that’s a very active area of research that’s exciting. And then we have the immune therapy. So, the ones that are available so far are drugs that block either PD-1 or PD-L1, and that's one of the really important stop signals for the immune system.

And tumors can use that stop signal to block an immune reaction to a tumor. But if you block that stop signal then the immune system can attack the cancer. So, that's really important, these PD-1, PD-L1 drugs.

We also know about another stop signal called CTLA-4, and there’re drugs that block that as well. And now, where there’s a ton of research is in trying to work with other parts of the immune system, other either pro-immune or anti-immune signals, and changing those in a way where we can improve the ability of the immune system to find the cancer cells and attack the cancer cells.

So, there are many, many studies being done with drugs, and especially in combinations, trying to get that response against the cancer from the immune system to be even stronger. And that’s, I think, where we’re making the most exciting headway now.

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options

New and Improved Lung Cancer Treatment Options from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Are there new lung cancer treatment options that you should know about? Expert Dr. Heather Wakelee reviews the latest research. Looking for more information? Download the Find Your Voice Resource Guide here.

Heather Wakelee, MD is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University. More about this expert here.

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Dr. Wakelee:

So, the treatment of lung cancer has been changing very, very quickly. We’ve had a lot of new options that have become available in the last few years, and there’re new ones coming along all the time. When I started treating lung cancer, which was a number of years ago, we were able to treat and help people.

But our only real option when the cancer was metastatic was chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is still an important part of treatment for many people, but now we have other options. So, starting about 15 years ago, people were able to identify that some tumors had specific genetic changes. We also call these molecular changes, or gene mutations, or just mutations in the tumor. They have a lot of different names.

But when we do find them, these are things like EGFR or ALK or ROS or BRAF or MET, we actually have different treatment options that only work for tumors that have those specific genetic changes, and don’t work in tumors that don’t have those. So, when we talk about genetic changes a lot of people think, “Oh, that’s something that I’ve inherited.”

These are not things that are inherited. This is not something that’s in the whole person. It’s just in the tumor. So, it’s a mutation that happened in the DNA of the cell, and that cell then became the cancer. And depending on what that mutation or mutations are, we still can have chemotherapy, and that can work.

But for specific ones, and specifically EGFR, ALK, ROS, BRAF, we know that there are pill drugs and oral medication that actually is gonna be better than chemo, at least for a period of time, if a cancer has that specific mutation.

So, it’s really, really important to figure that out. It’s not something a doctor can sort out just by looking at the patient or looking at the tumor under the microscope. We have to do special testing, looking at the tumor DNA.

And we now have ways of looking for those mutations, not just in the tumor tissue, but also sometimes with blood. So, we can draw a blood test and look for those as well when there’s a tumor that’s shedding the DNA. So, it’s really important to think about that. And we now have a whole host of medications that we can offer people when we the find these mutations that we didn’t used to have, even a few years ago.

And, actually, if you think back over the last five years, we’ve had new drugs approved, a few of them every year, for these specific gene mutation tumors, so that’s really, really exciting. The other thing that’s changed dramatically just in the last five years is what we call immune therapy.

So, when we think about the different types of treatment, chemotherapy works by poisoning DNA. And in order to make a new cell, you have to make new DNA. Tumors are doing that more than a lot of normal tissue, and so we’re able to give chemotherapy and specifically hurt tumors and not the rest of the person very much.

With the targeted treatments where we find a gene target and where there’s a gene mutation in a tumor, those are medications that specifically hit that altered gene, that altered protein made by the gene. And then they work really, really well. What immune therapy does is it actually changes the way your body’s own immune system interacts with the tumor. So, we have a lot of types of immune cells, but the ones that are involved in really fighting the cancer directly are called T cells.

And so, normally, a T cell would recognize something that’s foreign like an abnormal-looking cell that’s a cancer, and attack it. But we have a lot of different systems in our body that stop the T cells from recognizing normal tissue and attacking it.

And one of the best systems for that is something called PD-1 and PD-L1. And so, if you have a T cell and it sees a PD-L1 signal on tissue, it assumes that that tissue was normal tissue and it doesn’t attack. But if you can hide that PD-L1 signal, then if it’s a T cell, a part of the immune system comes in and doesn’t see the PD-L1, it doesn’t get the stop signal. It’s not told to not attack. So, it could attack the tumor better.

And I’m not describing it well because it’s so complicated. There are a lot of different factors that help a T cell know whether to attack or not to attack. But, again, one of these key stop signals is the PD-1, PD-L1 interaction. And so, scientists were able to develop medications that can block PD-1 or PD-L1. And when those medications are in the body, if a tumor is using that particular stop signal as a way to hide from the immune system, when you give the medication that blocks it then the tumor is no longer hiding.

And then the immune system, those T cells, can come in and attack. So, these immune treatments, and there are now a lot, and so these are drugs, like pembrolizumab, also called Keytruda; nivolumab, which also called Opdivo; durvalumab, which is called IMFINZI. And there are many, many others. Those medications have now been shown to really, really help to fight cancer, particularly when the tumor is using that PD-L1 signal. But they can also be combined with chemotherapy and then they work even if there’s not a lot of PD-L1 in the tumor. So, again, it’s a very complex story.

But where we’ve seen dramatic improvements in treatment is we have targeted treatments when the genes are – there are specific genes mutating in tumors. We have immune therapy, which worked for a lot of other people. And sometimes when there’s also gene mutation, but not always, we still have chemotherapy. And then there’s ongoing research with a lot of different medications. Many of them are focusing on better ways to get the immune system to work against cancers beyond what we can already do.