No amount of reading articles or listening to personal experiences can truly prepare a cancer patient for the emotional impact of cancer treatment, but, any and all information that may be offered can benefit, even if just to provide a general roadmap to help patients and caregivers cope with their situations. In this two-part blog series, we’ll be covering the types of emotional side effects of cancer as well as what you, as a cancer patient, can do to take an active role in coping with your illness.
Distress is Normal
When we talk about “distress” here, we are referring to unpleasant feelings such as sadness, fear, hopelessness, anxiety, depression, uncertainty, and powerlessness. Distress is very common and understandable in people with cancer and their loved ones and a certain amount is normal. So much of a cancer patient’s life changes with a cancer diagnosis and but (s)he won’t know how much until it happens. This creates feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and even fear.
“Will I die?”
“What will happen to my kids if I can’t physically take care of them?”
“How long will I have to be under treatment?”
“Am I going to feel sick all the time during treatment?”
After a cancer diagnosis, there’s a bit of a waiting game while a patient’s oncology team determines the best course of treatment and feelings of distress are very common, especially waiting for surgery or that first chemotherapy treatment. Everything about cancer is stressful, including the side effects, such as weight changes, hair loss, fatigue, and disruption to routine, but sometimes it’s a little too much to deal with.
While a level of stress and distress is expected, if it interferes with treatment or if a patient can’t cope, additional support services may help. Having cancer affects your emotional health, and when those effects are debilitating, it is imperative that you get additional support. The American Cancer Society offers a helpful “Do I Need Professional Support” Self-Assessment Questionnaire for Patients to help you figure out whether professional counseling may be beneficial. You can find the questionnaire here: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/emotional-side-effects/distress-checklist-for-patients.html
Additionally, having a trusted cancer care team can be a significant resource for extra support, as is having loved ones that can also take on a support role. As a cancer patient, it is important to remember that you have people that care about you and want to help, but you must always be upfront with how you’re feeling and doing. Once people know how you’re doing, they can provide you with or direct you to the services most suited to your particular circumstances.
Please come back next week for part two of our blog series, where we will be discussing ways you, as a cancer patient (or caregiver) can cope with cancer.