My Role of a Lifetime: Lung Cancer Caregiver

By on February 21, 2018

By Marilu Henner—

From the big screen to the stage, I’ve played a variety of roles over the years. But perhaps the most important role was as a caregiver to my husband, Michael.

More than a dozen years ago, while undergoing treatment for bladder cancer, Michael was diagnosed with early-stage lung cancer.

Initially, we were deflated upon receiving the news. After all, we had already been through the highs and lows of a bladder cancer diagnosis. However, we knew the best thing to do was to stay positive and have an open dialogue about how best to manage his disease.

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women, and is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. But despite its prevalence, the disease can still be hard to talk about. In fact, a survey conducted by Genentech, a member of the Roche group, found that about 60 percent of men would find it easier to talk about infidelity than lung cancer. Many people have feelings of guilt surrounding a lung cancer diagnosis – and my husband was no different.

Thankfully, though, Michael and I didn’t let those feelings stop us from dealing with his diagnosis head on. We quickly armed ourselves with the latest information about the disease.

Once we opened up the dialogue, we reviewed the options together, and worked with a doctor to figure out a treatment plan that was right for us.

As Michael’s primary caregiver, I knew it was my job to be his advocate. I attended doctors’ visits and took copious notes, asked the tough questions and made sure Michael took care of his body and made healthy lifestyle choices.

In my experience, despite my typical endless energy, being a caregiver proved to be an exhausting job.

Often, when you’re busy caring for someone else, it can be easy to overlook your own needs. But you know the saying – you can’t pour from an empty cup – so, as a caregiver it’s really important to continue taking care of your own needs, too.

During Michael’s hospital stays, I would be sure to bring warm, comfortable clothes, bring healthy snacks and would even walk laps around the hospital to stay active. I knew it was crucial for me to stay healthy so I could care for Michael the way I needed to.

And I am sure glad I did. Being a caregiver to Michael during some of the most difficult times in our lives brought us closer together than ever.

Michael and I have a “turn lemons into lemonade” philosophy about life – and the lung cancer experience was no exception. After being diagnosed with lung cancer, we needed to travel from Chicago to Los Angeles. However, since Michael was unable to fly due to health concerns, we decided to take the train. It ended up being an intimate and bonding trip, and remains a very fond memory after all these years.

It’s important to recognize the important part caregivers play in helping their loved one through cancer. If you’re affected by lung cancer, I encourage you to log on to Lung Cancer Alliance’s website,, to download a tip sheet to help you navigate the lung cancer journey.

Although caregivers are often selfless in their support, they will likely be better able to care for their loved one if they take care of themselves first.

Marilu Henner is an accomplished actress, producer, radio host and best-selling author. Henner is also one of the few individuals documented to have highly superior auto-biographical memory, a skill that allows her to recall any given day, dating back even years, in vivid detail. Her husband Michael was diagnosed with bladder and lung cancer in 2003 and she served as his advocate and caregiver. She is a paid spokesperson for Genentech to share their story.

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My Role of a Lifetime: Lung Cancer Caregiver