Most patients are diagnosed with advanced lung cancer despite the presence of many and intense symptoms at diagnosis. This qualitative study aims to explore how people with inoperable lung cancer frame and conceptualize the onset of their sickness, to obtain knowledge which might facilitate earlier health care contact for people with potential lung cancer. Patients with inoperable lung cancer were recruited through a larger longitudinal study of 400 patients recruited consecutively from two university hospitals. The narrative analysis presented here is based on 91 narrative segments derived from audio-taped and transcribed qualitative interviews with 37 patients who survived the first year post diagnosis, complemented with data from previous interviews with the same people. Findings indicate a wide array of bodily experiences leading to diagnosis, including symptoms seen as related to other disorders, systemic complaints not conceptualized as symptoms or indications of a serious problem, and more rarely, symptoms triggering immediate action. In addition to the 'biographical disruption' often associated with chronic illness, this analysis indicates an alternative or parallel process involving 'biographical continuity', allowing for integration of past and present aspects of patients' lives.