Cancer Affects More Than the Body
As the largest professionally led nonprofit network of cancer support worldwide, the Cancer Support Community (CSC), including its Gilda’s Club affiliates, is dedicated to ensuring that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community.
CSC achieves its mission through three areas: direct service delivery, research, and advocacy. The organization includes an international network of nearly 50 local CSCs and Gilda’s Clubs with 120 satellite locations hat offer the highest quality social and emotional support for people impacted by cancer, as well as a community of support available online and over the phone. The Research & Training Institute conducts cutting-edge psychosocial, behavioral and survivorship research.
This article is excerpted from CSC’s Frankly Speaking about Cancer: Treatments & Side Effects, which can be downloaded from CSC’s website.
Talk to Your Doctor
Cancer not only affects your body, but it also has an impact on your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and attitudes. If you or your loved ones have received a cancer diagnosis, know there are actions you and your health care team can take to improve your emotional wellbeing during this experience. Emotional distress is very common. Professional help is advised if depression or anxiety is affecting you; do not be hesitant to obtain expert assistance.
Finding out you have cancer can be very challenging. Allow yourself time to adjust to the news. The emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis on an individual or family can vary greatly.
There may be shifts in different aspects of your life, including issues related to self-esteem and body image, family and friendship roles, financial resources and day-to-day activities. Because of these changes, you may experience a wide range of emotions including shock, fear, anger, sadness, thoughts about death, and helplessness.
However, when these feelings interfere with your ability to carry out normal daily functions, you may consider whether you are experiencing depression and/or anxiety. Some people experience depression and anxiety after a diagnosis of cancer, while others may already have a history of depression. Caregivers and family members may also experience depression and/or anxiety.
While it may be difficult, it is important to acknowledge whether you think you might be experiencing symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. If left untreated, depression and anxiety can impact your quality of life. For example, you may decide to skip doctors’ appointments because you feel like you can’t get out of bed or leave the house.
Talk with your health care team if you believe you are experiencing depression and/or anxiety to learn about treatment options. Treating emotional distress is just as important as treating your physical body. Do not neglect this important part of your care.
How Much Emotional Distress is Normal?
Some signs or symptoms that might indicate professional help is required to manage feelings of depression and anxiety are:
- Sadness or worry so severe that you miss or postpone your treatment appointments
- Fear that leads to panic or an overwhelming sense of dread
- An inability to make decisions or difficulty concentrating
- Extreme irritability or anger
- Feeling despair or hopelessness
- Constant thoughts about cancer or death
- Feeling worthless
- Lack of interest in activities that previously provided pleasure
- Sleeping less than 4 hours per night or having difficulty getting out of bed
- Having no appetite for a period of weeks
- Talk to friends, family or spiritual advisors about your feelings and fears.
- Make an appointment with a counselor, therapist or psychiatrist to help deal with your thoughts and feelings.
- Join a support group.
- Ask your doctor about medications that can help.
- Focus on living in the moment.
- Use relaxation techniques to reduce stress.
- Engage in physical activity you enjoy several times a week.
Value of Support
Cancer and its treatment may pose profound challenges to any individual or family. Yet, the idea of knowing you are not alone can be meaningful and significant in learning to cope with a cancer diagnosis. It is helpful to find people with whom you can share and express your feelings.
People cope with their emotions in different ways. Whether it is talking with a family member or friend, through individual therapy, or in the context of a support group, expressing emotions with others can:
- Decrease anger
- Improve self-confidence and assertiveness
- Improve an individual’s expression of support, empathy, interest and humor
- Improve physical functioning
- Improve your overall quality of life
- Decrease feelings of isolation
Cancer Support Helpline
The Cancer Support Helpline is staffed by mental health professionals who have over 170 years of combined experience helping people affected by cancer. They are available to provide emotional support as well as information and referral to local, regional and national resources to anyone impacted by a cancer diagnosis. CSC counselors and resource specialists can be reached by phone or live chatfrom Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. All of our services are provided to you in English and Spanish.
A Message from Our Sponsor
As the founding sponsor of Real World Health Care, the HealthWell Foundation is committed to helping patients get the medical treatments they need, regardless of their ability to pay. We’ve seen first-hand how financial distress can impact the health and lives of individuals and families. Cancer patients with behavioral health conditions are particularly hard hit; according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), patients with some forms of cancer incur $8,000 more per year in health care costs than cancer patients without behavioral health conditions.
In keeping with our mission, we are pleased to announce the introduction of a new Cancer-Related Behavioral Health Fund, specifically for treatment-related behavioral health issues in cancer. The Fund will provide financial assistance to individuals with a diagnosis of cancer to help with cost-shares (deductibles, coinsurances and copayments) for covered services rendered by behavioral health providers (psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical counselors, and licensed social workers).