Emotional and psychological needs remain a significant unmet need for people diagnosed with cancer. Cancer treatment interferes with how you think, feel, move, and live. Most people have an in-built optimistic bias in life that is cultivated by noticing what is going well and what one is ‘grateful for’. However, sometimes the circumstances we face call for more than simply applying a positive attitude and placing an emphasis on gratitude.
Making sense of the emotional and psychological impact of cancer is as important as understanding the physical side-effects of your treatment. A diagnosis of cancer and the experience of cancer treatment, stretches most people’s coping. This is because most of us are used to experiencing relatively good mental health, with an ability to work through stress and problem solve life challenges successfully. But cancer is not a problem to be solved.
Cancer patients generally ‘get on with life’, connect with others, return to work and employ a range of coping strategies to ward off intrusive and unwanted thoughts and emotions. However, this can sometimes come at an emotional cost. Individuals can feel worn down by the ‘energy’ it takes to maintain a positive outlook, reframe sensations, and redirect thoughts.
People describe a feeling of grief or sadness that is difficult to articulate, but is often expressed as “loss of freedom” or “care-free no more”, we recognise this as intangible loss.
Cancer patients are faced with trying to make sense of the countless uncertainties ahead of them from diagnosis (Has my cancer spread? What treatment do I need?), to treatment (Will these side-effects be permanent?), through to recovery (Will I be able to return to work?) and ultimately whether they will reach the coveted ‘5 year survival milestone’. These uncertainties can be difficult to share with others and can leave individuals feeling alone in their experience.
While there is no question that adopting a healthy mindset is an important part of supporting yourself through treatment and recovery, there needs to be space to say “this is really difficult”, “I am afraid, I am not sure I can do this”, or “I am sad about how my body has changed”. Coping with loss and change is a difficult process, and whilst we may adapt and overcome our circumstances, it won’t alleviate or eliminate all of these feelings. Developing a healthy mindset is about learning to balance fear and hope, and grief and gratitude, and not about deciding how positive (or negative) you are!
The purpose of this topic is to start a conversation with your Valion Oncology Care Coordinator about how to maintain your emotional and psychological health during and after cancer treatment and where to access additional support if you find your coping being stretched.
Click here to hear from one of Valion’s expert team members about supporting the psychological wellbeing of cancer patients during and after treatment that you may wish to read or share.