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?