When Cancer Caregivers Depart


After leaving the hospital, I craved the security and support my cancer care team provided me.

cartoon drawing of contributor and AML survivor, Mary Sansone

There have been studies about triggers for cancer survivors that can cause emotional distress and even PTSD.We may miss appointments, avoid people, lose sleep, use substances like drugs and alcohol to tamper anxiety, and for active patients, even stop treatments.

Among the many possible triggers, some of the common ones include the sight of hospitals, conversations about cancer, follow up appointments, aches and pains, certain personal experiences that prefaced or surrounded the cancer diagnosis and treatment and more.

I had a bone marrow transplant and recovered beautifully. Through therapy and medications, my anxiety and depression were kept at bay. I did not worry about cancer (much) after discharge.

But is there another sort of emotional after-shock that should be looked at by professionals?

In the bone marrow transplant ward, I had around-the-clock care. COVID-19 wasn’t fully grasped yet, so I was blessed to have my brothers and sister-in-law visit one at a time, albeit infrequently and with them donning masks. I had overflowing love from my family and multiple calls throughout the day. Doctors spent time with me compassionately and generously describing procedures. Nurses, social workers, chaplains, physical therapists and others made sure I was treated for more than just my cancer. I felt nurtured and flooded with love.

My doctors now consider me “a poster child” for bone marrow transplant treatment. Yay me!

Yet, I am divorced with no children, and my dog passed away right before my recurrence of AML. I live alone. After leaving the hospital, I faced an adjustment period as the multitude of caregivers dispersed.

When I need a dose of compassion, I turn to family. This past holiday I got a cold that seemed to last forever. I mentally made the leap that I had cancer again as a cold preceded a recurrence of AML in 2020. I spoke with my family about my “ever-lasting” cold and the panic I was experiencing. Without expressing my concerns to actual people, the fear would have grown limbs.

Is longing for a dose of benevolence when experiencing a trigger from a seemingly ordinary event a twisted psychological distress symptom? Or was I just seeking attention?

As I was attended to constantly in the hospital, I believe some level of separation anxiety affected me after discharge, but I also believe that occasional attention seeking is good for the soul.Pursuing support through these “see-me” desires is healthy, as we survivors covet safe spaces that allow us to process post-treatment fears. In addition to family and friends, therapists and support groups are available. Nonetheless, we survivors are the ones whoneed to make the effort to connect and share.

I use family, therapists and support groups and some meds.

My brother in-law, Mike, whose father and brother passed away from cancer, understood my panic over the seemingly endless cold. He got it. He did not judge me. He didn’t act like I was overreacting. That little connection went a long way.

Every now and again, fending for myself can be lonely. In isolation, my jump-thinking pokes me with paranoia. But I have resources when in need of nurturing. I use them.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.

Related Videos
MPN Hero, Ed Bartholemy in an interview with CURE
Andrew McMahon, wearing a white sweater and a hat, in an interview with CURE
Experts on chronic lymphocytic leukemia
Experts on chronic lymphocytic leukemia