5 Things Cancer Taught Me About Mental Health

I grew up in a society where mental health was stigmatized, but cancer made me realize that it helps to speak up about these issues.

Before being diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, I didn't take my mental health seriously. It wasn't until about a couple of years later when it just hit me like a ton of bricks.

Up until recently,there has been a societal stigma around mental health; no one talked about it or wanted to admit when they needed help. Growing up, mental health struggles were something you kept a secret, and when someone had to go to the hospital for mental health reasons, it was said to be for other reasons

During my battle with cancer, I had a one-track mind, and that was to do what I had to do to get rid of cancer. I was focused on the physical aspects of the disease, not knowing that my mind was going through trauma just as much as my body was. Taking care of my mental health wasn't a thought for me, although I was under a lot of stress.

I didn't know until years after my diagnosis that I needed to seek a mental health professional. I’d be just driving down the road and bam here comes a panic attack. The feeling of panic, fear, sweating and fast heartbeat seemingly came out of nowhere. I thought I was having a heart attack.

I went to doctor after doctor and was told a variety of things and had several tests on my lungs and heart. Then I met the right doctor, and she ushered me in the right direction with addressing the anxiety, depression, and PTSD I was experiencing.

Here are five things cancer taught me about my mental health.

  • Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. So many people suffer in silence because they fail to ignore signs and symptoms of emotional distress.
  • Don't be embarrassed. Suffering from anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. shouldn't cause embarrassment. Help is available for patients to feel better; why not take advantage of it?
  • Checkin with yourself. Sometimes you need a moment to yourself to just be aware of how you are feeling at that moment.
  • Talk to someone. Some may say let this person be someone outside of your family. It’s a great idea to join a support group. These individuals will be able to better relate to what you're going through. I had a very rare form of cancer and at the time information was insufficient. Since then, I have found a wonderful support group at the Mesothelioma Center.
  • Reach out for help. Ask your doctor to refer you to a mental health professional. As I look back, I do wish I had asked my oncologist for help. But when I think about it, I didn’t know what to ask for and I wasn’t given the option to receive care for my mental health.

A cancer diagnosis can impact your emotional health greatly. Not just you but your family as well. I've been 15 years and counting cancer free, and I'm more aware of my mental health than ever before.

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