In honor of mental health awareness month, we’re highlighting four blogs from cancer survivors about their emotional struggles and the methods they use to cope.
A cancer diagnosis takes a toll on patients not only physically, but emotionally as well. In fact, according to research published by the National Cancer Institute, a survey of patients whose breast cancer was treated with chemotherapy, approximately 25% experienced moderately severe depression, while 41% experienced anxiety at the end of treatment.
With mental health being correlated to physical wellbeing in some studies, it is paramount that patients — and their loved ones — seek out mental health help when needed.
“Sharing their concerns with their cancer care team (doctor, nurse, social worker) is a good start,” said Melissa F. Miller, senior director of research at the Cancer Support Community, in an April 2023 interview with CURE®.
In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, CURE® is elevating the stories of our bloggers, who are all patients, survivors or caregivers of those with cancer when it comes to the emotional toll of cancer, and how they got through it.
Ron Cooper, who was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer, said that he was “stuck with a perpetual feeling of gloominess and negativity.” Then, he found a memoir by Nina Riggs, a poet who died of breast cancer in 2017. Riggs had what Cooper called a “deliciously dark humor” about her disease. So, the prostate cancer survivor took a page out of her book and decided to find humor in his experiences. This does not mean that Cooper is completely worry free — this is particularly true, he says, leading up to follow-up scans — but he enjoys his days a bit more though laughter.
As a 20-year breast cancer survivor, Patti McGee said that she knows firsthand the toll that cancer takes on mental health. Then, she discovered meditation and breathing techniques. At first she was skeptical, but then she learned how much they helped improve her emotional state. “But after just a few weeks of regular practice, I began to notice a difference. I was calmer, more relaxed and less anxious,” she wrote. “I found that I was better able to cope with the fear of recurrence and the uncertainty of life after cancer.”
In 2007, Tamron Little was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma at the age of 21, and she has since experienced instances of racing thoughts and feeling of being overwhelmed with fear, anxiety and day-to-day tasks such as keeping up with appointments and medications. So, she discovered journaling — or as she calls it, “brain dumping” — as a tool to think more clearly and ease her anxiety. Little said that she sees this act as a mindfulness exercise.
Martha Carlson has been living for years with metastatic breast cancer, and every time she gets good news at a medical appointment, she feels guilty about sharing it with friends and social media connections who have similar diagnoses as her — friends who may not be receiving good news, and instead, are being told by clinicians that their treatments are failing. So, Carlson also sits between two places: providing hope for other patients with stage 4 cancer and feeling downhearted that others may not be doing as well as she is. “Good friends have told me that hearing my experience with stage 4 cancer brings hope, and I hear that sentiment echoed on social media,” she wrote. “I know there is truth to those words. But there is also truth to the pain other friends feel because our two paths are so utterly different.”
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