In Breast Cancer Awareness Month, discover why treating the mind is as important as treating the body.
Getting a cancer diagnosis is something everyone dreads. While still reeling in shock, patients suddenly find themselves having to make life altering and life-saving decisions. If there is more than one treatment, which should they choose? Will their insurance cover it? Will they still be able to work? How will they tell their loved ones? With all the chaos and emotional stress whirling around them, the last thing they usually think about is seeking psychological help, yet it is arguably the single best thing to help them navigate the minefield they are entering.
“Receiving a cancer diagnosis and sifting through all the information in order to make important decisions can be extremely difficult when we do not take into account a patient’s level of emotional distress,” says Deanna Weiss, Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Naperville Clinical Associates. “Patients are given treatment care options and timelines and it can be quite an overwhelming process. A psychologist can support many areas of emotional adjustment from understanding the diagnosis to balancing self-care and emotional wellbeing as they navigate the changes in their daily lifestyle. For example, how can they support themselves as are they facing a risky procedure or as they are managing side effects? Are they doing what their doctor or family wants them do without communicating what they want and need? ” Are they doing things to promote and reinforce hope and to increase social support? Are they taking care of their emotional wellbeing after treatment and during survivorship when certain emotional struggles can actually escalate?”
Weiss is trained in medical psychology with a special interest in working with adults, children and families related to the adjustment and care of cancer and other medical conditions. She recommends anyone with a cancer diagnosis review mental health resources because it can help lead to better outcome by supporting quality of life during the process and by increasing communication within their cancer treatment teams.
“In the last several years there has been a more integrative approach in addressing the anxiety, depression and even cancer-related PTSD symptomology we see in cancer patients, survivors and their families” she said. “People are more willing to talk about it. I am interested in making sure that this translates into connecting them with appropriate counseling services.”
According to National Cancer Institute research, experts in psycho-oncology advise cancer patients, survivors and caregivers to prioritize their emotional wellbeing and mental health as part of their cancer treatment and survivorship plans.
“Although the message is clear, focusing on emotional wellbeing during and after cancer treatment can be difficult for someone when they are pulled in many directions during the transitions due to serious illness,” Dr Weiss said. “It is important that our health care systems convey the benefits of mental health support and provide resources as part of regular visits with their patients and follow up visits with survivors and their families.”
Mental health services include resource counseling, coping skill support, relaxation training and teaching cognitive behavioral techniques that increase emotional wellbeing. Counseling and psychiatric professionals are trained to assess and address the patient’s distress continuum and to appropriately treat both expected difficulties in adjustment, as well as more severe anxiety, depression and PTSD disorders. This certainly helps equip patients to better deal with their cancer-related experiences.
The American Cancer Society agrees that an important part of coping with a cancer diagnosis is recognizing emotions and feelings.
“Treatment that deals with our emotions and relationships can help people with cancer feel more upbeat and have a better quality of life. Group support, individual therapy, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques can be used to help reduce distress and cope with the emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis.”