Tag Archives: lung cancer


Breathing Technique

This is part 3 of our Breathless Series. In Part 1, we looked at some of the reasons for breathlessness in cancer patients. I also shared my husband’s experience with shortness of breath to the point he nearly died. In Part 2, we looked at medical approaches to breathlessness. This post will be about non-medical approaches to breathlessness, including breathing technique and ways of controlling your environment to alleviate symptoms of breathlessness.

Non-medical approaches, including specific breathing technique, can be very effective ways to breathe easier.

On January 25, 2017, the Lung Cancer Alliance, kicked off their Coping Series with a webinar called “Breathing Easier.” The Coping Series is designed to educate and provide practical ways to manage the most common symptoms and side effects experienced by lung cancer patients and survivors. If you would like to see the full webinar, click here.

I would like to thank the Lung Cancer Alliance and the webinar presenters. They’ve kindly allowed me to share (originally on Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker) the information they taught, along with some slides from the webinar. I especially thank Dr. Lynn Reinke, a nurse practitioner, recognized nationally and internationally as a dyspnea crisis management expert (1). She spoke about breathing technique and other non-medical interventions to improve breathing.

Breathing Technique: Pursed-Lip Breathing

There are many advantages to the pursed lip breathing technique. It is simple to do. In fact, many people intuitively use this method of breathing when they are breathless. It can be used when you are at rest, as well as when you are active. This breathing technique is perfect for when you are climbing stair since it increases your blood oxygen levels.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Relax
  2. With your mouth closed, inhale through your nose. Count 2-4 seconds as you breathe in.
  3. Now, purse your lips (as if you’re going to drink from a straw).
  4. Exhale slowly through your pursed lips. Count 6-8 seconds as you breathe out.
  5. Repeat as often as you need.
Breathing Technique
Courtesy of the Lung Cancer Alliance

Breathing Technique: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Most people breathe wrong. When they take in a breath, their stomach contracts as they fill their lungs. That’s not the way we were created to breathe. The next time you get to see a baby lying on its back, watch him or her breathe. What do you notice? Their tummy rises as they inhale and sinks as they exhale. That’s because their diaphragm is doing its job the way it was meant to. Check out the diagram below to see what I mean.

By using the diagrammatic breathing technique, you will strengthen your diaphragm and reduce breathlessness, long term.

Bonus: This not only helps with breathing but also with pain control. Because of chronic pain, I go to a pain clinic. In physical therapy, this was the first thing they taught me. Pain perception and pain threshold are both affected by relaxation and the use of the diaphragmatic breathing technique.

Breathing Technique
Courtesy of The Lung Cancer Alliance
Breathing Technique
By John Pierce (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

Positioning: Leaning Over

Leaning over helps you to relax your shoulders and upper chest so that your diaphragm can expand opening up your lungs. There are several ways you can do this.

  • Leaning over a grocery cart while shopping
  • Lean over the back of a stable chair.
  • Rest your head on a pillow while seated at a table.

Don’t bend over too far, or you will make it harder for your diaphragm to do its job.

Breathing Technique
Courtesy of The Lung Cancer Alliance

Tricking Your Brain:

One interesting intervention involves using a hand-held battery-operated fan.

  • Aim the fan at your nose/face.
  • Hold the fan 6 inches away.
  • Continue to have the fan blowing on your face for 5 minutes.

It’s believed that the effect of the air stimulates your facial nerves, changes the perception of breathlessness in their brain.

Here is a highly recommended fan on Amazon:
VersionTech Multipurpose Collapsible Portable Fan Outdoor Fan Clip Fan Desktop Fan(3 Speed, Black)

Relaxation technique: Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This can be used in conjunction with the diaphragmatic breathing technique.

Progressive muscle relaxation is just that—you progress through your body, relaxing your muscles one at a time until you are completely relaxed. This reduces anxiety, helping you to breathe better. This has the same pain relieving bonus as the diaphragmatic breathing technique.

Often this is done by listening to a recording which prompts you to imagine… After you’ve done this a few times, you will be familiar with it and will be able to do it at any time you need to even if you don’t have a recording to listen to.

Here are the basics of PMR:

  • Either lie down or sit in a comfortable chair and relax.
  • Take a few deep breaths by using the diaphragmatic breathing technique.
  • Focus on your toes. Scrunch them up, and then release.
  • Next, tense your ankles and release.
  • As you move through the body, you will repeat this. After releasing, you will keep that part of the body relaxed as you progress through the rest of your muscles. Take a deep breath between each muscle group.
  • Tighten and then release your calf muscles, thigh muscles, your buttocks, and pelvic area.
  • Now, breathe deeply in, and as you breathe out, slowly relax and release any tension you may have in your back.
  • Lift your shoulders and then release completely.
  • Now relax your neck. Gently move your head from side to side.
  • Tighten and release your jaw muscles.
  • Finally, the top of your head. Imagine all the tension in your body has floated out of the top of your head, leaving you relaxed and refreshed.
  • Finish with some more deep breaths. If you are able, stay in this position for a few more minutes of calm and relaxation.

One of my favorite PMR scripts is called “Anesthesia.”  It uses the same concept as the one above, except instead of tensing the muscles, you imagine each part of the body is dipped into a bowl of anesthesia, causing it to fall asleep. It’s so relaxing you just might fall asleep afterward. I once relaxed this way while getting a tooth pulled!

Other techniques include meditation, guided imagery, and acupressure/acupuncture etc.

Check out this post I wrote for the A to Z Blogging Challenge on Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

Planning: Energy Conservation

One thing cancer patients learn quickly is the importance of conserving their energy. This involves scrutinizing your schedule to ensure it isn’t too full.

  1. Plan your week so that you don’t have more obligations than you can handle each day.
  2. Plan your day according to your priorities. What:
    • do you need to accomplish?
    • would you like to accomplish?
    • can wait until another time if you can’t get to everything?
  1. Pace yourself.
    • Think about the big picture.
    • How will a morning appointment affect the rest of your day?
  2. Plan Your Position.
    • Consider where and when you will be able to sit throughout the day.
    • Getting a shower seat can be helpful when just taking a shower wears you out.
    • Some people get a walker, to always have a seat when they need one. Standing in line can be particularly difficult because there is nowhere to sit.
    • For things like vacations and state fairs, nothing beats a scooter. There are scooter rentals available everywhere. They will even deliver and pick up at hotels.

Your Environment

Avoid environmental triggers which lead to shortness of breath.

  • Smoking
  • Air pollutants
  • Allergens
  • extreme temperatures (Humidity, Cold)

A scarf or face mask can be helpful for reducing the impact of these triggers. In Minnesota, the cold winter air was very hard on my husband’s breathing. It sent him into terrible coughing fits. He began to use a face mask like doctors use. This made a big difference.

Many Tools for Many Factors

Learn multiple approaches to managing breathlessness and what learns best for you. You will have a variety of ways for dealing with the various things that contribute to shortness of breath.

Next time…

We will look at exercises that can reduce the impact of breathlessness on your life.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

Dr. Lynn Reinke, Ph.D., ARNP, FAAN (University of Washington) is a nurse practitioner, recognized nationally and internationally as a dyspnea crisis management expert.

 

 

Originally posted 2018-11-19 07:00:57.


Breathlessness A Medical Approach

This is part 2 of our Breathless Series. In Part 1, we looked at some of the reasons for breathlessness in cancer patients. I also shared my husband’s experience with shortness of breath to the point he nearly died. There are both medical and non-medical approaches to alleviate the symptoms of breathlessness. In this post, we will talk about the medical approach.

The Lung Cancer Alliance

In 2017, the Lung Cancer Alliance recently held a webinar called, “Breathing Easier.” It was the first webinar in their Coping Series. This is a series designed to educate and provide practical ways to manage the most common symptoms and side effects experienced by lung cancer patients and survivors. Because Approximately half of all cancer patients complain of breathlessness at some point. (1) The information they shared is valuable to an even wider audience of cancer survivors.

Much of the information in this post comes from the webinar. I appreciate the Lung Cancer Alliance allowing me to share it (originally at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker). I encourage you to go to their website to learn more ways of coping with lung cancer.

Treat the Cancer

Dr. Lynn Reinke, Ph.D., ARNP, FAAN (University of Washington) is a nurse practitioner, recognized nationally and internationally as a dyspnea crisis management expert. She says that the first key to managing shortness of breath is to treat the lung cancer [or any cancer that has metastasized to the lungs] along with its symptoms.

Our Story

When my husband, Dan, experienced severe shortness of breath, it was because his cancer was out of control. It prompted his doctors to order a new CT scan. The results told us that it was time to change treatments. The following month, there were more scans and his treatment plan changed with each one until they found one that worked. That was when he could breathe again! Until then, several other medications were used to help with his cough and breathlessness.

Medications for Breathlessness

As we learned in the first post in this series, there are many causes of breathlessness. Talk to your provider about what medications are appropriate for you.

Also, learn the correct way to use these medications to maximize the effectiveness.  Because many of these medications are inhaled, the technique you use is very important. When you are being prescribed an inhaled medication, a doctor or nurse will be happy to demonstrate the proper way technique. They can also give you a “spacer.” The Asthma Society of Canada has a great illustration and instructions on their site for using a spacer.

Bronchodilators such as albuterol are fast acting and helpful to use prior to activity that may cause shortness of breath.

Breathlessness
(2)

Long-acting bronchodilators last 12 hours. Some use steroids and some reduce inflammation in the lungs.

Nebulizers are helpful for acute breathlessness. A nebulizer is a portable machine which delivers the medication in the form of a breathable mist.

 

 

Other medications:

Opioids, such as low doses of morphine (10-30 mg) are widely used to manage breathlessness. Even experts don’t fully understand why they work. The anxiety-reducing and cough-relieving effects of diamorphine make it ideal for lung cancer. Even patients with COPD can safely use oral morphine for shortness of breath, The patient starts on a low dose, and which is raised per response and side-effects. This level of morphine is well below the amount that patients are prescribed for pain.

Anti-anxiety medications such as lorazepam. Shortness of breath can trigger anxiety attacks. Anxiety, in turn, causes people to tense up and this further reduces lung capacity. It can become a vicious cycle. Anxiety medications can end this cycle.

Oxygen

Oxygen is only helpful if the blood levels of oxygen are low. You can still experience breathlessness without having a low blood-oxygen level. To see whether oxygen is appropriate for you, doctors will test your oxygen level with an oximeter. That’s the little clamp they place on your finger that has a red light in it. Normal blood oxygen levels are between 75 and 100 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). A level of 60 mmHg or lower indicates the need for supplemental oxygen.

Our Story

People often asked why the doctors didn’t put Dan on oxygen when he was so sick. His numbers were always borderline, but not low enough to merit oxygen therapy. It was counter-intuitive to us since he was struggling to breathe. Yet, these guidelines are in place for a very good reason. Too much oxygen can be dangerous, as well. Levels of over 110 mmHg can damage the cells in your lungs.

Next Post…

Non-medical interventions are often the most effective way to cope with long-term treatment of breathlessness. In the next post, we will look at non-medical approaches to breathlessness, including breathing techniques and exercises. If you haven’t already signed up to receive alerts when our weekly post is up, do that now. If you know someone who is living with cancer, pass this along to them.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

1 Virtual Medical Center, Breathlessness in Cancer; https://www.myvmc.com/symptoms/breathlessness-in-cancer/

2 By Trainer2a (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Originally posted 2018-11-12 07:00:39.


Shortness of breath and cancer

The most common side effect of lung cancer is dyspnea, better known as shortness of breath. 90% of Lung cancer patients experience this at some point, during, and even long after treatment has ended. In a Lung Cancer Alliance survey, lung cancer survivors of 5 or more years, still rated it as their most problematic issue. It isn’t only lung cancer patients who suffer from breathlessness. Approximately half of all cancer patients complain of breathlessness at some point. (1) Shortness of breath is sometimes called air hunger. Unfortunately, for many cancer patients, it’s a part of their everyday life, negatively impacting their ability to do the things they need and want to do.

Our Story

In the fall of 2015, Dan’s stage IV lung cancer had progressed in his lungs and had metastasized to his brain so it was time to change his treatment.  They put him on a new type of treatment called immunotherapy, specifically, Opdivo. We had big hopes for this new drug which had been having great results in many patients.

Within 3 weeks, Dan developed a cough.  Coughing was a known side effect of Opdivo. It was getting worse by the week. In November, less than two months into the treatment, we went away for a romantic weekend in St. Paul. We went on a tour of the St. Paul Cathedral and visited Landmark Center. We stayed at the Covington Inn, a floating bed and breakfast on a tug-boat sitting on the Mississippi River. Before leaving St. Paul, we walked along Summit Avenue, a historic district lined with well-preserved Victorian homes, including the Governor’s Mansion.

It was a turning point in our lives.

We got home in the afternoon and went to bed exhausted. Dan was in bed for days. It became nearly impossible for him to speak without breaking into a coughing fit. He had just walked over a mile down Summit Avenue, and a week later, could no longer walk across the room without having to sit down. He couldn’t get a deep breath.

“Helpless. Frustrating. Scary.”

Shortness of breath can feel like a tightness in the chest or an inability to take a deep enough breath. In 2015, my husband suffered from severe breathlessness.  I asked Dan to tell me in a few words what this felt like. He said, “Helpless. Frustrating. Scary, because as you continue to lose your breath, you know there’s a limit to what you can lose before you have a big problem. You see your everyday life getting more and more difficult. Just taking a shower is exhausting. Soon, you’re bedridden and hospice is the only thing you have to help. It’s really very sad.”

There are many causes of shortness of breath.

Among the causes of breathlessness in cancer patients (especially with advanced cancer) are:

  • pleural effusion (fluid on the lungs)
  • anemia (insufficient red blood cells to transport oxygen)
  • obstruction of airways due to tumors
  • lymphangitis (thickening of the lymphatics in the lung, sometimes caused by cancer cells)
  • removal of part of all of a lung
  • smoking-related lung issues
  • heart failure or damage
  • pulmonary toxicity caused by chemotherapy and/or radiation
  • fatigue and pain which make taking a deep breath difficult
  • an anxiety cycle which causes panic and a sensation of breathlessness.

Treatment Options

Shortness of breath
Lung function tests

Once your doctor determines the cause of your breathlessness, they will be able to give you some treatment options. The treatment for shortness of breath will depend on the cause of it. For example, if it’s caused by pleural effusion, the fluid around the lungs will need to be drained.

shortness of breath

We began an investigation into the matter with his medical team, including an oncologist and a pulmonologist. He had bloodwork, scans, breathing tests, and a bronchoscopy. We were told that Dan’s cough and shortness of breath were was not a side effect of the immunotherapy, as was previously thought. The treatment wasn’t working, so the cancer had been progressing. He had lymphangitic spread (2). This is a term used to describe the spread of cancer throughout the lungs. Cancer was filling his lungs and he couldn’t breathe.

“Do you have a healthcare directive?”

The doctors began talking about decisions that needed to be made at the end of life. “What about intubation?” “Have you reassessed your healthcare directive?” We had lived with Dan’s terminal cancer for over three years and yet we were surprised by these questions. It was like having cold water thrown on us.  It quickly brought the reality we were facing, into focus.

Along with attempts to ease the discomfort of breathlessness, Dan began one treatment after another. First, a traditional chemotherapy, and then two different targeted therapies, recently released by the FDA, each one after another. Finally, one worked, Tagrisso. It began killing cancer cells and he soon regained his lung function.

Next post…

Treatment options for shortness of breath include medical interventions, environmental changes, breathing techniques, and exercises to improve breathing. Be sure to read my next post to learn more about some solutions to shortness of breath. The link will go live when the post is published.

 

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

1 Virtual Medical Center, Breathlessness in Cancer; https://www.myvmc.com/symptoms/breathlessness-in-cancer/

2 lymphangitic carcinomatosis (LIM-fan-JIH-tik KAR-sih-NOH-muh-TOH-sis) A condition in which cancer cells spread from the original (primary) tumor and invade lymph vessels (thin tubes that carry lymph and white blood cells through the body’s lymph system). The invaded lymph vessels then fill up with cancer cells and become blocked. Although lymphangitic carcinomatosis can occur anywhere in the body, it commonly happens in the lungs. It can happen in many types of cancer but is most common in breast, lung, colon, stomach, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. Also called carcinomatous lymphangitis. (NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms)

 

Originally posted 2018-11-05 07:00:33.


Lung Cancer Awareness

It’s still October, but I want to remind you a few days early that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a big deal to me, personally, because lung cancer has affected so many people I have known and loved. Most of my readers know that my husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer almost exactly 6 years ago. not long before that, my stepmother died of lung cancer. We’ve had many friends who have been diagnosed with lung cancer. One thankfully is still alive and well.

Next month, I will be posting a series on breathlessness. So I thought I would take this opportunity to share some facts and statistics about the most deadly cancer.

Our Lung Cancer Awareness Story

In October of 2012, my husband discovered hardened enlarged lymph nodes above his left collarbone. He was 51, healthy, and the father of 6 children (3 of whom were still young). He’d never smoked, yet, his doctors soon diagnosed him with stage IV lung cancer. Our world turned upside down.

At the time my husband was diagnosed, he had none of the symptoms you associated with lung cancer, no cough, no trouble breathing. He had terrible back pain that he thought was from a pulled muscle. The pain was actually due to cancer that had already spread to his spinal cord.

When he felt those lumps, he immediately called to get an appointment with the doctor. We would have to wait 3 long days for that appointment. In the meantime, we searched the internet for answers. All of the reputable websites suggested that his symptoms were consistent with metastatic lung cancer.

We kept looking. There was no way it could be lung cancer. Dan had never smoked. He was a realtor and a pastor. He wasn’t working around respiratory hazards. We were wrong. Non-smokers get lung cancer too.

Asking for Prayer

False Assumptions: Real Facts

Most people assume that they don’t need to worry about lung cancer. While most women are aware of their risk of breast cancer, a recent survey that looked at awareness and perceptions about lung health showed that 98% of women don’t even have lung cancer on their health radar. 78% of women don’t know that lung cancer has killed more women than breast cancer each year since 1987. It’s time to raise lung cancer awareness.

Not a Statistic

It is important to keep in mind that a patient is a person, not a statistic. People are unique. Therefore, they will each respond to various treatments in their own unique way. Other factors affect survival, such as age and health at the time of diagnosis. Adherence to a treatment plan as well as the severity of side effects from treatments are factors in survival. Often, whether someone has more or less success than anticipated on a given treatment seems to be as predictable as a roll of the dice. By communicating well with a board-certified oncologist you trust, you have a greater chance of increasing your survival.

Perhaps my favorite story about statistics is my husband’s. When a doctor told him that he had a 4% chance of surviving 5 years, he said, “Someone needs to be in the 4%. It might as well be me.”

Still, statistics do tell a story

In the case of lung cancer, it is a frightening one. It is a story that propels us to take lung cancer awareness seriously.

  • About 14% of all new cancers are lung cancers.
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than colon cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer combined.
  • One reason lung cancer so deadly is because it is usually asymptomatic until it has metastasized (spread throughout the body).
  • Because of this, half of all lung cancers are already staged IV by the time they are diagnosed.
  • Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers accounting for an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.
  • Another cause of lung cancer is asbestos, Nonsmoking asbestos workers are 5X more likely to develop lung cancer than non­smokers not exposed to asbestos. If you’re a smoker and you’ve been exposed to asbestos, your risk of developing lung cancer increases 50 fold.

5 Year Survival Rates for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

Not everyone wants to know the statistics of the cancer they or a loved one are facing. If you are one of those people, look no further. If you want greater lung cancer awareness, read on. What follows are the most recent statistics using the current AJCC staging system. The percentage listed is the percentage of patients diagnosed with the given stage of NSCLC who survive 5 years. They are based on thousands of people worldwide, who were diagnosed with NSCLC between 1999 and 2010. These survival rates include people who die from causes other than cancer. Rates are approximations. (American Cancer Society 1)Lung Cancer Awareness

  • Stage IA1   92%
  • Stage IA2   83%
  • Stage IA3   77%
  • Stage IB     68%
  • Stage IIA    60%
  • Stage IIB    53%
  • Stage IIIA   36%
  • Stage IIIB   26%
  • Stage IIIC   13%
  • Stage IVA   10%
  • Stage IVB  Less than 1%.

It’s important to keep in mind that even with these grim statistics, there are often many treatment options available for people with these stages of cancer.

Take this quiz to see if you should be screened for lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Awareness Reminder:

You don’t have to be a smoker to get Lung Cancer!

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnote: American Cancer Society, Non-Small Cell Cancer Survival Rates by stage

Originally posted 2018-10-29 07:00:41.


Breathing Exercise

This is part 4 of our Breathless Series. In Part 1, we looked at some of the reasons for breathlessness in cancer patients. I also shared my husband’s experience with shortness of breath to the point he nearly died. In Part 2, we looked at medical approaches to breathlessness. Part 3 was a look at non-medical approaches to breathlessness, including breathing techniques and ways of controlling your environment to alleviate symptoms of breathlessness. In this final installment of the series, we will look at more non-medical ways to alleviate shortness of breath: breathing exercise.

Breathing is Medicine

Donna Wilson, RN, is a personal trainer at integrative medicine center at Memorial Sloan Ketterling Cancer Center in New York. She helps restore flexibility, reduce breathlessness and fatigue in cancer patients and survivors. In a recent webinar presented by the Lung Cancer Alliance, she shared some breathing exercises that can be used to strengthen your breathing.

It may sound counter-intuitive to use breathing to combat breathlessness. But, Donna says, “Breathing is medicine. Exercise is medicine.”

In part 3 of this series, we learned about the mechanics of breathing, as well as some ways we can breathe to bring immediate relief of breathlessness. Pursed-lip breathing is a great example of this.

We want more than short-term relief, though. We want long-term improvement in our breathing. Breathing exercises along with other exercises to strengthen the muscles in chest wall will help you to breathe most efficiently.

By John Pierce (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise

We talked about diaphragmatic breathing in the last post. Let’s get a little more detailed here.

If you place your fingers just below your rib cage and breathe, you will feel the diaphragm. Try it!

Breathing is the perfect exchange.

You breathe oxygen in (ideally through your nose):

Feel your diaphragm flex downward as your lungs fill with air.

Now, exhale carbon dioxide (though your mouth):

Feel your diaphragm flexes upward as the air is pushed out.

Relaxation Breath 4-8-8:

  1. For this breathing exercise, inhale through your nose for the count of four (This is a mental count, not actual seconds). This increases the amount of air you take in
  2. Hold that breath for the count of 8. This allows air to be distributed throughout your lungs
  3. Breathe out with pursed lips for a count of 8. This keeps airways open longer and prompts a larger inhalation through the nose

“Sniffles”

This fast breathing exercise uses “sniffles” to strengthen the diaphragm:

  1. Sit with your back upright.
  2. Place your hands on your knees, and your feet, flat on the floor.
  3. Close your mouth.
  4. Inhale for 2 counts through the nose.
  5. Exhale for 2 counts through the nose.
  6. Continue to breathe in this pattern.

In the beginning, you will keep this up for 15-30 seconds. Your goal is to eventually perform this for 60 seconds, once or twice each day.

“Healing Breath” Breathing Exercise

This is especially helpful for episodes of breathlessness from coughing, activity, or anxiety.

  1. In a sitting position, gently tilt your chin to your chest. This will relax you.
    1. Breathe out through lips in short bursts 10x
  2. When Neck muscles feel less stressed:
    1. Breathe in through the nose
    2. Breathe out through pursed lips 3x
  3. Then when your breathing normalizes:
    1. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4
    2. Breathe out through your mouth making an “AH” sound for a count of 8.

To see this demonstrated, check out this video.

Coordinated Breathing Exercise

It’s so important as a cancer survivor to keep moving! Donna Wilson has a great video that addresses the difficulties cancer patients face as they resume movement after cancer treatment and/or being sedentary for quite some time. Check out her other videos as well!

Shortness of breath during exercise is normal. Your muscles contract during exercise. Because of this, you need to breathe faster to get more oxygen to the muscles.  Modify what you are doing if necessary. Coordinate your breathing with exertion.

You always breathe in (unless you have a neurological injury).

People don’t always breathe out efficiently, though.

Pursed lip breathing creates back-pressure in your airways. This prevents your small airways from closing and makes breathing easier. Never hold your breath.

Breathing out is the key. The power is in the exhale. Whenever you do something that takes effort (push, pull, lift, bend over), breathe out. Coordinate breath with movement

Breathing Exercise
Image courtesy of the Lung Cancer Alliance

Check out this tip sheet on coping with shortness of breath, from the Lung Cancer Alliance.

I would like to thank the Lung Cancer Alliance and Donna Wilson for allowing me to share this information with you (originally at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker).

To learn more about the Lung Cancer Alliance, check out their website, their Facebook page, or their Toll-Free Helpline 1-800-298-2436. Contact them for more information on living with lung cancer.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A to Z Challenge Survivor

Newsletter

Find out when I post a new blog.

Archives

Categories

Grab a copy of Facing Cancer as a Friend!

Get the Memory Maker’s Journal

%d bloggers like this: