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Parents of Childhood Cancer Survivors Face Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Even Years Later

Cancer can bring about post-traumatic stress disorder that can linger for many years in both survivors of childhood cancer and their parents.
PUBLISHED July 03, 2019
Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician and a writer. In 2011, he wrote and recorded, "Where Hope Lives" for the American Cancer Society and the song for survivors, "Survivors Survive" used in 2015 for #WorldCancerDay. Recently, he published his book, This is Remission: A Four-Time Cancer Survivor's Memories of Treatment, Struggle, and Life, available on Amazon.

With cancer can come ugly things such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Cancer.net talks extensively about what factors can make patients with cancer and survivors more susceptible to PTSD. And to be honest, like the scores of other cancer survivors, I myself have dealt with anxiety, depression and dreaded PTSD.

However, a recent interview with Michelle Zenie, the executive director of the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley, and Dr. Nathan Hagstrom, a pediatric cancer oncologist at Lehigh Valley Health Network, discussed how parents of childhood cancer can suffer from PTSD as well.

This should come as no surprise.

"Out of all the adults with cancer, people on treatment, off treatment… the ones who are most common to experience PTSD symptoms are mothers of children who have or had cancer," Dr. Nathan Hagstrom said in an interview on WFMZ, Allentown, Pennsylvania.

And to think, that over the years I've just thought my mom was a worry wart. Well, maybe she was a little, but as it turns out there was most likely a good reason. Heck, she's been through cancer with me four times. I mean every bit of it – from the early days of cancer treatment at the age of six to multiple episodes of ventricular tachycardia, infections, multiple emergencies and that one time when I stopped breathing because of anaphylactic shock.

So, does the torment that comes with PTSD ever end for the parents who have endured having to watch their children take on cancer?

"The rate of symptoms does drop off as time passes, there are mothers who still have PTSD symptoms years and years later, even after the child has been declared cured," said Dr. Hagstrom.

So it seems that post-traumatic stress disorder affecting the parents of children with cancer may decline over time, but based on my experience and that of my mom, I'm not sure it truly ever goes away completely.

"People with cancer and cancer survivors who have PTSD need treatment because the disorder can keep them from getting needed tests, cancer treatments or follow-up care. PTSD can also increase a person's risk of developing other mental, physical, and social problems," according to Cancer.net.

Whether you are a cancer survivor, patient or caretaker, don't take on anxiety, depression or PTSD alone. There's no need to. Take the first step, reach out and get the help you deserve.

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