When a person receives a cancer diagnosis, it’s natural to experience moments of shock, anxiety, sadness, and fatigue. Even those with a strong support network can feel alone as they begin their journey through treatment.
The wrong thing to do is not to acknowledge the connection between mental health and cancer. To conveniently forget about a patient’s mental wellbeing or bury it in the busyness of appointments, hospital stays, and recovery times. These feelings are real, and so are their effects on the health and wellness of patients and their families.
Some mental health concerns after a cancer diagnosis can include:
- Deep feelings of sadness that can be precursors to depression
- A nagging fear of the future or not being there for your family
- Increased anxiety, while natural, can be exacerbated by stress and certain medications.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in response to cancer or previous life events.
The Team That’s Here to Help
At Leonard Cancer Institute, treating the whole patient includes caring for the emotional wellbeing of our patients, families, and their caregivers. Our team includes mental health professionals who are here to support patients and their families. This group includes psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, nurse navigators, and spiritual advisors, all of whom are uniquely trained and experienced in addressing patients’ needs.
By providing doctors and therapists with a complete medical history, including any previous mental health diagnosis, patients can play an active role in caring for their overall wellbeing. It’s also crucial that patients provide doctors with a detailed medical history that includes a list of any psychotropic medications they’re taking at the time of diagnosis.
Discussing one’s concerns and feelings with a healthcare team can improve the sense of wellbeing and build the hope that is so important during a battle with cancer. For those who need them, antidepressants and other treatments combining medications and therapy are available and often required only for a limited time. There is no shame in asking for help with mental health.
Self-care During Cancer Treatment
Caring for one’s self is absolutely vital while fighting cancer. Patients should take note of shifts in mood, appetite, and sleep patterns. Anything that makes daily life more difficult should be discussed with physicians.
Patients can help maintain their mental health during treatment by listening to friends and family when they address concerns, keeping a diary, trying breathing exercises, and staying engaged with family, friends, and community. Patients with more social support tend to feel less anxious and depressed and report a better quality of life. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can also help patients recognize and address negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive ones.
Staying active during and after cancer care is also beneficial. At Leonard Cancer Institute, we complement our precision medicine with a range of natural treatments and activities—yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, therapeutic touch, massage, cooking, and art classes, and more—that can benefit a patient’s spirit and energy.
The Power of Mental Health and Cancer Outcomes
With today’s rapid advancements in genetics and precision medicine, cancer survival rates are increasing at a pace unimagined just a few years ago.
The role positive thinking plays in cancer outcomes is still being explored, but what is known is that stress, anxiety, and depression can weaken the immune system, impeding cancer prevention and natural disease defense. Patients that have a healthy support system and counseling have also been shown to have more positive long term outcomes and report a higher quality of life.
One thing that can also negatively affect a patient’s functioning is chemo brain. The stress of a cancer diagnosis, combined with the potent chemicals in chemotherapy, can create fogginess, confusion, difficulty concentrating, short attention spans, and more. If experiencing any of these symptoms, patients, again, should discuss these issues with a doctor. Some treatments can reduce the severity and length of these symptoms.
Cancer Survival Rates and Wellness
Research from The National Cancer Institute shows that up to 25 percent of cancer survivors experience symptoms of depression, and up to 45 percent experience anxiety. And what’s even more concerning is that survivors are twice as likely to commit suicide than the general population, and cancer survivors who are depressed are twice as likely to die prematurely.
As cancer survival rates continue to increase rapidly, so must the availability of post-treatment mental health care. If you or someone you know is a cancer survivor and needs to talk, we’re here for you. Just reach out by phone, email, or message us on social media. You can also speak to the experienced caregivers at CancerCare, an organization with over 75 years of experience in providing support to anyone affected by cancer.