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Emotional Challenges After Cancer (or Enough, Already!)

By HERWriter
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Thanks to better diagnostic tools and effective medicine, more people are surviving cancer and survivors are living longer after diagnosis.

With about 12 million cancer survivors in the United States, we can now study the long term effects of cancer. Aside from considerable physical/medical impacts, a problem too often ignored is psychological distress. Recent studies estimate that twice as many survivors of adult cancers have severe psychological distress (compared to non-cancer-affected adults). Honestly, I’m surprised that it’s only twice.

Cancer affects people in so many ways that it’s hard to focus on only one dimension. However, emotional and psychological distress can be very debilitating and can get worse over time if not treated, especially for long term survivors.

Obviously, there is intense stress at the time of diagnosis, even when the patient suspects cancer. It is like being hit by a train going a thousand miles an hour. And, the range of emotions covers the gamut, shock - fear – anger, it’s all there screaming in your head as you try to grip a slippery slope that feeds the River of Doom. Somehow, with the help of doctors, nurses, treatments and supportive friends and families, most cancer patients are able to pull themselves through treatment. Some (although not as many as could/should) get psychological therapy. However, for those patients who survive the disease, finish medical treatment, and try to get on with their lives, the downstream effects of the disease and its treatments can create a new, serious challenge.

Imagine beating cancer because you did everything you were told to do (chemo, radiation, drug therapies) only to find that those treatments have left you with new problems that affect your quality of life . . . and you may have them for life. Or worse, how about being diagnosed with secondary cancers that resulted from your last cancer treatments? The emotional and psychological blow to survivors is like being sucker-punched. After all, wasn’t cancer enough?

Add a Comment6 Comments

I have not had cancer, so your post was a true eye-opener for me. What a wonderful resource you are. What you write about is so human, so natural. When I read it, it just seems that therapy should be a common followup to surgery, chemo and/or radiation. Thank you so much for writing. I have learned something today.

August 26, 2009 - 8:49am
EmpowHER Guest

Annette - You are so beautiful, I saw you speak at the OCNA convention and you are such a treasure!!! Thank you for helping all of us voice what we feel after treatment. It's so hard to go back to your old life when you have changed so much but everyone else is the same. I take great comfort in knowing that I am not alone in feeling like this.

August 24, 2009 - 9:41pm

I am so glad I came across your article! I finished chemo March 10,2009 for uterine cancer and must say there has been no one to address the emotional impact that cancer (and all that goes with it) has on one's life. Being in the health care profession as a pharmacist, I am shocked at how little psychological support has been offered - seems you basically have to 'find your way out of the maze' by yourself. Thanks for validating many of my feelings. I have been trying to tough it out by myself, but now realize the smartest thing for me to do for myself (and for my family) may be to see a therapist. Thank you!

August 24, 2009 - 8:31pm

Dear Anonymous...I hear you! I have felt the exact same way for some time now. Luckily, finding this site has helped me get past the negative "I'm a big baby and need to just get over it" inner dialogue and move towards something more positive, like seeing a professional therapist. (my first appt is Wednesday) And Annette, you are so insightful...I love the question you pose, "After all, wasn’t cancer enough?" It really does feel like we've been given a raw deal. There IS one thing I keep telling myself, though : "Everything I've gone through in my life, both good & bad, have made me the person I am, and I like who I am. This is just another learning experience." Sometimes it helps & sometimes it doesn't help much, but it does remind me that I've gotten through hard times before and come out the other side a better person. I have started a Gratitude Journal. Every blessing I can think of is like a ray of light in the dark...it gives me something to hold onto.

August 24, 2009 - 10:42am

It's a paradox. Although I am grateful for all the blessings in my life, I could do without all the learning moments. Thanks for your feedback.

August 22, 2009 - 10:20am
EmpowHER Guest

Thank you so much for this advise, I thought I was just being ungrateful and losing my mind...

August 22, 2009 - 9:16am
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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.