Sometimes patients and families ask, “How long am I (or the patient) going to live?” Of course, it is unlikely that the health care team will be able to answer this question with any level of accuracy—every patient is different, and so is the course of the disease. However, some averages can provide general guidance. Even if the person with cancer is given an estimate, the actual outcome will depend heavily on several issues including, but not limited to:
• Response to treatment
• How well the patient is getting up and around
• The human spirit and attitude
For some patients, it is personally important for them to have a prognosis. Some people want to plan ahead as much as possible, get their financial affairs in order, and change their priorities depending on the expected outcome of the disease and the associated timeline. For others, a prognosis only causes fear and anxiety for both the patient his or her loved ones. As a caregiver, you should follow the lead of the person with cancer; make sure that the patient gets all of the information that he or she wants, but do not push a prognosis on someone who is not ready. For some people with lung cancer, understanding a broad range of potential outcomes and timelines is more helpful. Regardless, you can encourage the person with cancer to live every day fully while also starting to put his or her affairs in order.