I recently have found myself engaging with a number of people about the mental impact that a cancer diagnosis has had on their lives. There are so many different phases that most people experience from the time of receiving the news to and through treatments that may last for years or the rest of a person’s life. However, cancer treatment is usually focused solely on the physical aspects of getting rid of the cancer, if possible, and keeping it from returning. And while the physical effects of cancer are often so difficult with which to deal, the mental effects are seldom, if ever, considered and addressed.
The first response that one usually has when diagnosed is shock and fear. And while the shock will pass, for many the fear may last forever. Often a person can never get past the feelings that their life is over after a cancer diagnosis and they sink into a depression that is never recognized and/or treated. And seldom is a survivor naïve enough to believe that if you have cancer and even if you are successfully treated to the point of no evidence of disease that you will return to life as it was before the diagnosis.
Cancer is almost always treated with surgery. Then there may be chemotherapy and radiation and the physical changes that they bring on so many levels. The physical reminders are always visible even under the best of circumstances. Those scars can be something that is difficult for a person to handle especially if they adversely affect another person who is of great importance in the patient’s life. The impact on how a person views herself or himself as a result can damage a person far beyond anything that can be seen on the outside.
Then there is the financial devastation that often accompanies cancer. Many patients not only lose their income during treatment but also may lose their source of income if they are not able to continue to work after treatment. The fear that one has when they don’t know whether they will be able to pay their rent or even have enough money to put food on the table for themselves, and perhaps a family, can have such devastating effects on a person from which they may never be able to mentally recover. Even if they are able to get some help, it may not be enough or may come too late to stop much of the immediate needs that force a person to take extreme measures to survive that may include stopping treatment on one or more levels.
No matter how much time passes, cancer mentally affects a person forever to some degree. For those dealing with advanced cancer, it is on a daily basis but even for those who have no evidence of disease, there is always fear that it will return. Even after completion of treatment, patients wonder if something may have been missed or if the treatment that was elected was enough. And even after many years, just talk to a survivor who is anticipating upcoming screenings and tests or who is waiting for their test results.
Therefore, it is time that all are afforded the necessary resources for treatment for the psychological aspects of cancer in the same way that the physical treatment is given. Those who are immediate family members of a cancer patient also need to be provided with counseling in order to be able to cope with the new circumstances in which they find themselves in their daily lives. It just may be the single best treatment that can ultimately be provided in order to help survivors to live the best life possible in the future.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free,
24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please
visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database