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Surviving Cancer: The Mental Health Perspective

By HERWriter
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cancer survivors and mental health iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Surviving cancer is a great accomplishment, but unfortunately it can also take a mental toll on some survivors. The 25th Annual National Cancer Survivors Day is June 3, 2012, and both experts and cancer survivors are sharing information on mental health issues specific to cancer survivors, as well as coping tips.

An article on Harvard Medical School’s website by Ann MacDonald, the editor of Harvard Health, addresses a few mental and emotional health issues cancer survivors may face.

These include being unable to make many important decisions in life due to “the specter of cancer” hanging over many cancer survivors, feeling “emotionally paralyzed,” having fear that the cancer will return (leading to anxiety), and feeling guilty that they survived when many others have not.

It’s important to recognize psychological issues that can worsen cancer that is still present, as well as understand mental health issues that can be present for people who have cancer that’s in remission.

For people who are still fighting cancer, stress can actually make cancer worse in some cases, according to the National Cancer Institute website.

There have been studies suggesting that stress and other psychological factors can make cancer grow and spread, but it’s uncertain if stress can actually be an initial cause or influencing factor in developing cancer.

Christine Clifford, the CEO and president of The Cancer Club, has been a survivor of cancer for over 18 years, specifically stage III metastatic breast cancer. She has written several books, including “Laugh 'Til It Heals: Notes From the World’s Funniest Cancer Mailbox.”

She believes laughing can help mental health and also the healing process.

“Depression is very common for cancer patients, as well as survivors,” Clifford said.

“We've literally stared death in the face, and the question is always, ‘Will it come back again?’ My advice to cancer patients is to seek help, through the use of psychologists, drug therapy and exercise. Learn to embrace your cancer: You can't change your situation, so instead, ask yourself, ‘How can I make the best of this situation?’"

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.