Cancer can be emotionally draining for patients, families, and caregivers. Anxiety, distress, and depression are common emotions during this life-changing experience, carrying the potential to disrupt the patient’s other roles. As a result, it is critical to recognise these changes and seek help when necessary.
Anxiety is defined as a state of being worried, concerned, or scared about a current or potential situation. Recognizing anxiety and taking steps to manage or prevent it from worsening is critical. Anxiety is a frequent complaint among cancer patients. At various points during treatment and recovery, cancer patients, their families, and caregivers may experience fear and anxiety. Anxiety and fear can be caused by discovering a lump or other sign or symptom of cancer, as well as learning that they have cancer or that it has returned. Anxiety may also be caused by treatment, doctor visits, and tests (the feeling that something bad is going to happen).
Distress is defined as an unpleasant emotion, feeling, thought, condition, or behaviour. Being distressed can affect your thoughts, feelings, and actions, making it difficult to cope with cancer symptoms, treatment, and side effects. Distress, according to research, can influence how you make health decisions and take action. You may find it difficult to focus on treatment decisions, follow-up appointments, or even taking medications prescribed for your condition.
When patients and family members are dealing with cancer, depression is common. It is natural to feel sadness and grief. However, there is cause for concern if a person has been sad for a long time or is having difficulty carrying out daily activities. Depression affects approximately one out of every four cancer patients, but it is curable. In fact, people who have previously suffered from depression are more likely to suffer from depression after a cancer diagnosis.
- Accepting their cancer diagnosis
- Going forward with the treatment
- Numerous side effects
- Treatment is not progressing as expected
- Living life with cancer
All of this makes them fear that they will be unable to cope with cancer, leading them to conclude, “There is no life ahead!”
In fact, the presence of these psychological issues causes them to question the treatment and wonder if it is going in the right direction. They begin to over-analyze their situations and become constantly overwhelmed.
It is therefore critical to guide them through these difficult times and educate them on the natural side-effects that will occur as they progress through their cancer treatments and even afterward.
- Will I ever look or feel the same way I used to? Conscious of their appearances
It is normal to be sad and upset about your body’s changes. Many people place a high value on their physical appearance. Avoid comparing yourself to others. In different situations, you may have different feelings about your body. You must adapt in your own unique way and at your own pace.
- How effective are counselling, psychotherapy, and emotional support during and after cancer treatment?
It is the most effective way of keeping the patient emotionally and mentally stable. Counsellors provide cancer patients with a safe space to express their thoughts, fears, anxieties, and distresses by listening with an empathetic ear. While they believe that everyone is against them, including their family and the medical team, for forcing them to eat what they don’t want to eat and giving them medicines they don’t want to take, it is with the counsellors that they feel safe and heard. When they begin to feel like a burden on their family, they turn to the counsellor because they know the counsellors recognise and understand their situation. They give patients a mental push to continue with their treatments. Psychologists serve as a “plus one” for emotionally vulnerable cancer patients. They are the people who are not present in the situations but connect with the patients in such a way that the patients want to return to them.
- I am there for you
- Your thoughts are very important
- What you will think, you will attract
- You have the healing energies within your body
- You have to send positive energy to your food, water, and medicines.
- You must fight this; you have the strength to do so.
These reassuring words alter the patient’s otherwise negative outlook. “This is the best part of my day when someone wants to know what I went through and where I can vent out my feelings without any mask or filter,” patients say. “I can be myself here.”
When patients are told, “I’m sorry, but you have been diagnosed with cancer,” they are more affected mentally than physically. Even digesting these words takes time and a lot of emotional energy for them.
Consequently, the psychological issues go in a loop for cancer patients. As a result, psychological issues for cancer patients go on in a loop. The stressors and their corresponding mental responses cause the patient to fail to adhere to the treatment plan established by the doctors and medical team.For example, their mental state, and these psychological issues cause patients to be concerned about having side effects in the future, compromising side effect management. Suppose a patient experiences nausea and vomiting during or after chemotherapy. In that case, they may choose to forego treatment in order to avoid experiencing these sensations and feeling fatigued, sad, and distressed again.
It is, therefore, critical that cancer patients receive appropriate emotional counselling, psychotherapy, and mind-body-wellness programmes in order to accept the cancer, learn how to deal with cancer, and live a quality life.
Snippets from the survivors themselves:
“Although the issue happened to me, it was not under my control. I left everything to the mystic laws of nature. I was sure that I was not going to die. Even if it was the fourth stage, I always kept my mindset positive.”
While I had phases of sadness and depression during my treatment regimen, I always kept in mind that nothing will happen to me at the end of the day. And even if it does, not more than two people will be affected. So, instead of worrying about death and the faults that my treatment would undergo, I channelised my brain into positive thinking and problem solving. In fact, 15-20 days after my last cycle of chemotherapy, I went for a solo-trip to Bhutan, to calm myself down, to experience the little joys that I have in life and to cherish my presence with my own self. While I had colostomy and there were certain restrictions to me related to my colostomy bag, I still went and lived every moment to the fullest there. However, I ensured to go for regular check-ups and doctors appointments to check for any discrepancies or abnormal constructions in my body. Soon. as covid hit the world and I realised that my exposure to my workplace would increase my body toxins as well as my stress levels. As a consequence, I quit my job. Because, the most important thing for me was to live and keep my body and mind healthy and stress free. I could get another occupation, but not another life. However, as I started staying at home continuously, I hit the rock bottom of depression, where I just wanted to hide in an isolated corner and not see anyone. However, with proper care and continuous positive efforts, I overcame these feelings and now, I am all healthy physically as well as mentally.
“The caregivers and relatives should not look at you as a patient. Rather, empathise with you and have a solution-based approach.”
C. K. Iyengar, who is a Multiple Myeloma Cancer Survivor, in his conversation with us talked about how essential it is for caregivers to not have sympathy, but empathy for the patient. Their sympathetic and always concerned, uncertain, and fearful attitude will ultimately compromise the patient’s health – making them weaker. Instead of sitting idle and constantly thinking about the problem, the patients can be asked to go for a walk, engage in some activities. While these activities can’t be done by patients who are in their metastasis phases, other cancer patients must follow it, in order to keep both, their mind and their bodies free of stress and unwanted negative thoughts. And even after the entire cancer treatment is over, patients should follow their lifestyle modification plan to reduce the chances of post-cancer depression.
In fact, the first and foremost thing a patient should do is be mentally strong. It is a proven fact that during the cancer journey and after witnessing all the implications cancer does to their bodies, many patients give up and lose the ability to live and their hopes for a better future. Just like how immunity building takes a lot of time after cancer, so does getting back to a normal emotional and mental state. He therefore asks patients to go for a lot of “Lifestyle Reorientation” in their remission period and even after it. This includes engaging in breathing exercises, physical exercises, mindfulness, meditation, positive-creative visualisation, pranayam. But, above all of this is a person’s innate faith and belief that I can and I will overcome this. Until and unless a patient doesn’t believe that the treatment is not working on them, they won’t be able to see the results. In fact, a patient should enjoy their days to the fullest, thinking of them as their bonus days. They should read motivational stories and develop a positive mental framework towards themselves, their loved ones, their society and also, their life situations. Interestingly, after you recover, you should try to do something for the betterment of the society and create a difference, with this new-found respect for life.
ZenOnco’s role in managing psychological issues:
There is no doubt that cancer patients face a variety of physical and psychological issues during and after treatment. However, consulting with a psychology expert and adhering to a proper diet can be the first steps in restoring their self-esteem, confidence, and physical and mental strength.
To learn more about managing psychological issues contact experts from Zenonco.io