Mindfulness Meditation for Lung Cancer Survivors

By Ben Garcia, BSN, RN, Elaine S. DeMeyer, RN, MSN, AOCN®, BMTCN® - Last Updated: November 14, 2022

Living with lung cancer as a survivor or covivor (caregiver or support person) is physically and emotionally challenging. After lung cancer surgery, survivors may be unable to take deep breaths. Instead, they may pant or purse their lips to breathe. Although many cancer survivors can benefit from mindfulness meditation, those with lung cancer often have special needs related to their difficulty of breathing or high-stress levels. Oncology nurses can empower them with mindfulness meditation resources.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness means paying full attention to something by being consciously aware of the present moment. Instead of having your “mind full,” mindfulness is being fully present and aware of where you are and what you’re doing. Mindfulness meditation focuses on the present moment and what you are feeling without any interpretation or judgment. Constantly planning, thinking negative thoughts, worrying, problem-solving, and daydreaming can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression. It is draining. Practicing mindfulness meditation can help redirect attention to the present to engage in the moment fully. For lung cancer survivors, it can support them both mentally and physically.

Where Can You Find Mindfulness Programs?

Mindfulness meditation may be sought out by individuals using apps, in-person sessions, virtual calls, or teletherapy. Much like comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation after heart surgery, a more extensive pulmonary rehabilitation program incorporates mindfulness strategies. In these programs, patients learn about stress reduction and mindfulness breathing techniques, diet, exercise, oxygen use (if needed), and smoking cessation.

Some survivors may participate in a research study. Research of mindfulness-based interventions for survivors of early-stage, advanced, or metastatic disease, often for the patient and their caregiver, is ongoing. For example, Linda Wortman, a lung cancer survivor, participated in a mindfulness meditation–paced breathing study conducted by the Mayo Clinic. Interventions such as listening to paced breathing exercises, relaxing tones, and visualization exercises became her lifeline. “I was at the point where I was gasping for every breath, so it helped to have a guide to follow. I would do it for hours and would even practice it in the middle of the night. When I was in pain, this meditation practice was the only thing that could help me feel better,” states Ms. Wortman.

In addition, mindfulness meditation can help the transition to end-of-life care. For example, mindfulness helped improve communication and facilitate patients’ and their partners’ acceptance of impending death due to lung cancer.

How Can You Engage Lung Cancer Survivors in Mindfulness?

Oncology nurses must tailor mindfulness interventions. Some lung cancer survivors prefer a live facilitated call, while others prefer an app (eg, Calm, Ten Percent Happier, Headspace). LUNGevity is an organization that offers help to lung cancer survivors through education, research, and support. As an oncology nurse and mindfulness meditation facilitator, I collaborate with LUNGevity to facilitate online mindfulness meditation sessions (called Mindful Mondays) for lung cancer survivors, caregivers, family, and friends. These 60-minute sessions over 4 weeks help attendees start their week with mindfulness to help them feel calmer, less stressed, and more focused. In his mindfulness meditation sessions, I often refer to the work by leading psychologists specializing in oncology: “Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery: A Step-by-Step MBSR Approach to Help You Cope with Treatment and Reclaim Your Life.” In my former role as an oncology patient navigator, I use the book to help patients work through the challenges of their cancer journey.

Despite many treatment advances and a better understanding of biomarkers to personalize care, the 5-year survival rate of 18.6% for patients with lung cancer remains lower than other cancers. Oncology nurses can help support survivors and their caregivers by encouraging mindfulness by providing resources. In addition, mindfulness is an effective intervention to prevent burnout, distress, and compassion fatigue in oncology nurses, so also consider engaging yourself.

This article is written by a mentee of beyond Oncology’s Writing Mentorship Program. beyond Oncology pairs oncology nurses with writing and publishing experience (mentors) with nurses who want guidance in having their voices heard through online writing (mentees). To learn more about the program, please visit beyond Oncology.

References

What is Mindfulness?

A Prospective Pilot Study Evaluating Feasibility and Preliminary Effects of Breathe Easier: A Mindfulness-based Intervention for Survivors of Lung Cancer and Their Family Members (Dyads)

A Mindfulness-Based Intervention as a Supportive Care Strategy for Patients with Metastatic Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer and Their Spouses: Results of a Three-Arm Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial

This Lung Cancer Survivor Used Meditation to Help Her Run

Perspectives of Bereaved Partners of Lung Cancer Patients on the Role of Mindfulness in Dying and Grieving: A Qualitative Study

Calm

Ten Percent Happier

Headspace

Mindful Mondays with Ben Garcia

Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery: A Step-by-Step MBSR Approach to Help You Cope with Treatment and Reclaim Your Life

Lung Cancer Fact Sheet

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