For a majority of long-term lung cancer survivors, it’s not uncommon to face serious illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease. After recovering from lung cancer surgery (thoracotomy), survivors may also experience physical and psychological symptoms that include shortness of breath (dyspnea), fatigue, mild to moderate chest pain, sleep problems, and depression and/or anxiety, which impact their quality of life.

At the same time, family, friends, and especially partners of survivors of lung cancer should not be forgotten. They also have to cope with the disease’s impact on the survivor, themselves, and others. Family members of lung cancer survivors may receive little or no preparation for their new – and often unexpected – role as a caregiver or support person. In addition to providing emotional and practical support, a survivor’s partner may have to cope with a number of their own concerns and uncertainties.

After nearly three decades of clinical nursing practice, Dr. McDonnell recognizes that both patients and family members need help and support to cope with a lung cancer diagnosis, and her work follows an emerging trend in the research that recognizes when a survivor and their family member are treated simultaneously, the well-being of each individual improves.