Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Emotional Effects of Cancer

Feeling sad or anxious about having cancer? Or maybe you are feeling lost and confused about the end of treatment? Cancer affects your body and your mind, and it even impacts your family and friends. Where can you turn to or help?

Whether you are recently diagnosed, completing treatment, or dealing with advanced cancer, there are resources to assist you in dealing with the emotional burden of cancer and it's impact on your life.


If you can relate to any of the following experiences and they have a significant impact on you or your family, you would likely benefit from seeking help:

  • Sadness or loss of interest in activities
  • Loss of motivation 
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety or worry
  • Feelings of numbness
  • Confusion or loss of meaning in your life
  • Excessive anger or guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite and/or energy levels
  • Increased use of alcohol
  • New or increased use of "recreational" drugs
  • A prior history of mental health or emotional issues

Mental health professionals can include clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, psychiatric nurses and other professionals such as support group facilitators / moderators. These individuals are trained to help people adjust to the challenges life throws at them, including cancer. In some cases, mental health professionals are specifically trained to work with people who have cancer.

Psychologists and psychiatrists are also trained to work with and help those with more severe mental health problems, which ofte arise during, or are exacerbated by, a stressful illness or a life threatening condition such as cancer.  Even if you are not experiencing a serious mental health condition, you may desire to maintain or enhance your sense of purpose or menaing in life, improve your quality of life despite cancer or seek personal growth. In any of these cases working with a mental health professional would be a valuable personal experience.


Mental health professionals provide an array of services ranging from groups to individual therapy, mental health medication management, individual, couples and family counseling or support groups. For example, many hospitals, nonprofit organizations, libraries or churches offer support groups for cancer patients and  survivors  which allows them to interact with other people familiar with the cancer experience journey.

Some offer groups with more specific focuses, such as stress management, coping skills training,  and dealing with anxiety or loss (bereavement groups) while others focus on enhancing meaning in your life through spiritual growth or hobbies. However, you may prefer individual therapy where you can focus more on your own specific needs and goals or personal issues. Given the impact cancer can have on a family and loved ones, you may find couple's or family therapy a great setting for learning coping with cancer strategies together.  


If you think you might benefit from working with a mental health professional or support group there are several steps you can take. If you are currently receiving treatment or follow up care for cancer, talk to your nurse or doctor. Let them know how you are feeling or that you want a referral for counseling or a support group.  Some cancer centers have mental health professionals as part of the treatment team. If this is not the case, your healthcare provider can help you find a suitable organization or healhcare professional  in the community who can provide services tailored  to your needs and financial situation.  Your treatment team may also guide you to support groups or there may be flyers or pamphlets posted at your treatment site. 

There are also very helpful and useful internet resources that provide links to support networks and cancer specific patient information. These include the American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org/)  and the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping). If you are a thyroid cancer patient or survivor we have a list of Thyroid Cancer specific resources listed in our Resources Page and or you can email us  sjccfthynet@gmail.com with your request for additional information.

If you find that you or a loved one is troubled by any of the concerns mentioned above, it is central to your health and wellbeing or your loved ones that you talk to your treatment team or current healthcare provider about these issues without delay. Lastly, it is important to note that if you or someone you love have any severe thoughts of self-harm, you call 911 or go immediately to the nearest emergency.

Cancer is a life altering experience. It has an impact on your physical health, but it can also affect your emotional well being. You are not alone in your feelings: many cancer survivors, including I, experience these changes. However, there is hope for emotional recovery and growth, and you can take control by seeking the help you need today. 

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