Patients With Cancer and Caregivers Share How Their Mental Health Has Changed Since Their Diagnosis

CURE® surveyed its audience to see how their cancer diagnosis affected their mental health. Here’s what they had to say.

Research findings have shown that cancer can negatively affect all aspects of physical and mental health.

In fact, study results previously demonstrated that many patients with blood cancers experience depression or anxiety after their diagnosis.

Yet, research has shown that patients and survivors do not always speak up about the way cancer affects their mental health. Mental health issues have been shown to be associated with some patients avoiding participating in research and certain treatments.

A recent study, for example, showed that depression and anxiety can deter patients with multiple myeloma from joining clinical trials which have the potential to significantly improve outcomes. As a result, experts highly encourage patients with cancer to reach out to their providers about their mental health concerns without delay, as they might have tools that can provide relief.

To learn more about how the mental health of cancer survivors and patients can be affected by a cancer diagnosis, CURE® surveyed its audience on social media.

In our weekly #CureConnect question, we asked, “How has your or your loved one's mental health changed since being diagnosed with cancer?”

Fear of Recurrence

“I’m not the same person I was in my ‘before cancer life.’ Anxiety was never an issue, but it is always there now. I’ve gone through lots of therapy to deal with the effects of long-term survivorship. It’s not as easy as one would assume. I also had to fight to get help because no one discussed the mental pitfalls of living with terminal cancer. The survivor’s guilt coupled with reoccurrence anxiety is a lot some days. Thankfully, I’ve gotten therapy and have the tools to get through. Mental health needs to be a part of the treatment process. One’s mental state is a game changer in any cancer journey.”- Heather Von St James, a mesothelioma survivor.

Mother’s Worries, Compounded

“I used to have the normal mother worries. Now those are in turbocharge mode. I need to center myself with conscious effort if the phone rings unexpectedly and it’s her. I look at her and try to capture every moment just in case. It’s very hard.”- Debbie Legault, breast cancer caregiver and CURE® contributor.

Learn more about Legault’s experiences caring for her daughter, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27, by reading her blogs.

Mindset and Meditation

“I’m a lifelong panic and anxiety sufferer, to a paralyzing extent. When my cancer came in, I froze, as it ravaged (my body), I accepted, and in the very center, I became, for the first time, completely anxiety-free. I couldn’t walk or talk, so I learned panic is a conditional response I had taught myself with the reward that I could … escape, avoid, run, or hide. When I couldn’t hide anymore, my panic died.

I became fearless because there was no reward or acknowledgment of my ‘nerves’. I was only a cancer patient, so I could do my job as such or get a shot of Ativan. Now after covid and after beating a death sentence, I have moments, but as a whole, I’m not letting cancer take anything more from me than it already has. My brain, my choice.” –Gina Mancini Horan, a patient with stage 4 lung cancer.

Read more about Gina’s story of “running away” from hospice care in her 'Share Your Story' submission.

“As a (two-time) cancer survivor, I developed a mindfulness practice and trained (through the University of California San Diego) to be an MBSR (Mindfulness-based stress reduction) instructor. I work with cancer thrivers and non-profits like women's shelters. This has given me so much peace and acceptance.”- Linda Seabright

Want to know more about meditation? Review this step-by-step guide on how patients with cancer can implement meditation into their lives to help ease stress, anxiety and pain.

Seeking Solace in Support Systems

“I sought mental health supports right away after diagnosis. I knew I couldn't do it alone because of my experience as a caregiver when my mom was sick. Since my cancer diagnosis, I've also been diagnosed with anxiety. I also made sure my spouse was aware of the support available to her.” - Jason Manuge, a patient with stage 3C (T4a) colon cancer.

“I was already in therapy at the time of diagnosis and my clinician at the time handled it with the exact care and compassion I needed. As a therapist myself, I tried often to use skills I would recommend others to use through it. Even with the attention to my mental health during cancer treatment, it was still the hardest thing to manage and still is now that I’m (in remission). It has intensified my anxiety, changed my perspective and boundaries, both softened and hardened me, and makes me simultaneously sad and angry (and) yet, I’m mentally stronger than I ever have been.

I was diagnosed at the beginning of the COVID shutdown and had to do the majority of it alone when I needed support the most. The lack of being able to have others present for me because of the pandemic remains the hardest part of it all. Absolutely a traumatizing experience even if COVID wasn’t part of it and it is something I will work on likely for the rest of my life. I encourage anyone struggling similarly to speak up and seek support, even though it’s hard. There are people who will see you, hear you, and validate what you’re feeling and going through. No one is ever as alone as they may feel.“-Danielle Glick, a uterine cancer survivor.

If any of these situations sound familiar to you, know that you are not alone. CURE® compiled a guide for patients with cancer and caregivers to help find the best mental health care available to them.

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