I’m so sorry to hear about your mom and what your family is going through. I know what it feels like to hear that news, to feel like you’ve been punched in the chest and have to face the potential loss of someone so dear. I am sending lots of love and strength your way, knowing you will need it during this difficult time.
My mom doesn’t have lung cancer, but she was diagnosed with stage 4, terminal parotid cancer last spring. She originally found the tumor over Christmas (on a dental x-ray of all places), and by spring, they told her it was in her lymph nodes, lungs, and head. They gave her 6-12 months. She has had surgery and radiation, and now she is on chemo alone. She’ll get chemo for a few weeks, then take a break, then again. She is actually doing very well right now. She is strong, and we are hopeful that she will get a few more years. The doctors will paint the darkest picture because it is better to get more time than expected than less.
The hardest thing for me, besides trying to cope with my mother’s illness, is trying to find ways to support her while she faces her own mortality. I buy her silk scarves to wear now that she doesn’t wear a wig anymore (many salons partner with cancer foundations to provide wigs, cut and color them for free). I send her care packages now and then from place like thepamperedpatient.com. I put together chemo playlists or get her books to read for the many hours of treatments. Being proactive abut supporting my mother has really helped me to focus my mind on that and keep me sane. Maybe it could help for you, too.
Your dad will also need support. My father has found church again and has found a lot of help from the support network there, but my brother and I have made sure he knows that he will not be alone if and when my mother passes. He is facing the loss of his life partner, and we know he is as devastated as my mom and needs his own ways of coping. Having a solid at-home hospice plan has helped him because he knows that if the time draws near, he can call on this plan to have help as a caregiver.
The key difference between dealing with early stage and late stage cancer is that my mother’s primary goal in receiving treatment is quality of life. I would really focus on helping your mom try to find ways to extend that above all else, the quality of her life, especially when it means finding ways to be fulfilled. My mom was weak for a while, but when her energy plateaus, she tries to get to zumba classes and has started geocaching. She has been doing well enough the last couple months that they are going to Hawaii soon between chemo cycles, something she has always wanted to do. Those sort of fulfilling, short-term goals and hobbies help keep the sense of meaning in her life.
Laughter and humor are also really important. It may not feel like it now, but there will be times your family will be gathered together looking at old photos or eating dinner, and you will laugh and find those moments of joy. I know this is nerdy, but once those moments started to come back, I kept thinking of the Dumbledore quote from Harry Potter: “Happiness can be found in even the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
Sorry for such a novel. I hope there’s something in there that you’ll find helpful during this difficult time.