When we hear the word cancer it brings out a negative feeling or energy. There is a misconception among everybody that cancer cannot be cured. But cancer is in fact curable. The person can live a healthy life if detected and diagnosed early.
A proper treatment regimen, healthy diet and a positive mindset towards it is what is needed. People generally lose hope and feel lost when they are diagnosed with cancer. Health is nothing but the complete physical, mental and social well-being of an individual. Often, we do not give importance to the emotional well-being of a person compared to the physical well-being of the person. But in reality, additional care needs to be taken for the emotional side of the person.
When a person is diagnosed with cancer, it not only affects his professional life but also affects his personal life. Here the mental health of the patient as well as the family is at stake.
Cancer is derived from Latin language meaning ‘creeping ulcer or crab’, as swollen veins that are around the tumour bear a resemblance to the limbs of a crab.
A person would have to deal with a lot of aspects in his life when he/she is diagnosed with cancer. They would have to deal with the financial situation, the professional condition, the physical and emotional state of the family as well as the patient. One is trapped in a maze of many such aspects, just like the limbs of the crab. Dealing altogether with these aspects may cause mental trauma to the patient and family.
Cancer and Mental health-
Dealing with mental health during cancer can be petrifying. The emotional stress can be handled well with the help of family, loved ones and self-help groups that help to deal with them.
Research has shown that there might be a connection between cancer survival and mental health. There has been progress seen in the health of cancer patients who have been provided mental health care. Some common emotional health issues seen in cancer patients are Depression, Anxiety, Distress, Loneliness, Anger, Fear etc.
- Depression- It is the most ignored health issue of a cancer patient. Dealing with depression can be difficult and scary. Depression is a medical condition that can cause the individual to feel loneliness, sadness, losing interest in his/her hobby, in severe cases even thoughts of hurting oneself or even suicide. A study shows that 8% to 24% of cancer patients suffer from depression.
- Anxiety- Is a disorder in which a person may feel worry, tension, intrusive thoughts etc. Anxiety attack happens unannounced; a person would suddenly feel shortness of breath, increased heart rate, profuse sweating etc.
- Distress- It is a severe or prolonged form of stress or both.
- Loneliness- It is quite natural to feel lonely when a patient is diagnosed with cancer. They would have the thoughts of being alone during tests, scans, treatments etc. They do not find anyone with whom they can relate much to or to understand what he/she is going through. Hence even in the presence of their family or loved ones, one would feel lonely.
- Anger and Fear- These are the natural thoughts that come to the patient as, “why me? What did I do to deserve this? Will I die?” etc. The patient may start blaming himself for the cause of cancer.
How to deal with mental and emotional health
Managing the mental and emotional health of the patient is very important. Nowadays people are raising awareness towards the importance of mental health of the cancer patient. These are few ways which can help you to cope up with mental health-
- Talking to family, loved ones and peers.
- Enrolling in self-help groups, NGOs, cancer support communities etc.
- Meeting and talking to a therapist.
- Engaging in outdoor activities like going for a walk, practising yoga or exercise, etc.
- Eat healthy and get good sleep.
- Blogging/Maintaining a journal to express what you feel
There is a new field that has emerged in psychology known as psycho-oncology. It has been practised in India for over a decade now, but hardly there is any awareness about it. It is known to help cancer patients deal with the physical, social, psychological and behavioural aspects of cancer. And also helps to improve the overall quality of life.
Thus it is very important for cancer patients as well as families to understand the importance of psycho-oncology. As it helps coping with cancer more efficiently.
Patients can be encouraged to join the cancer hospitals in Bangalore or NGOs to deal with it in a better way. Patients who have trouble sleeping and coping up with anxiety can be given medication on prescription by the doctor.
Do not panic if a person is diagnosed with cancer. With the advancement of technology and medicine, cancer is very much curable. Early cancer screening tests help in detecting, diagnosing and treating the disease.
How does cancer affect the patient physically?
Cancer can affect the patient physically as well as mentally. One should know that these symptoms differ from person-to-person. Some of the common symptoms are-
A. Short term side effects:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Recurrent ulcers etc.
- Fatigue- It is the most common type of side effect experienced by the patients. Unlike day-to-day fatigue it occurs suddenly. Resting does help relieve such fatigue.
- Nausea and Vomiting- It is mostly seen in a lot of patients after the treatment. In such cases talk to your doctor about your symptoms and extra care and medication is to be given.
- Hair loss- Patients usually experience hair loss after chemotherapy and radiotherapy, those are not permanent. New hair follicles would start to grow after 3-6 months of the completion of the treatment.
- Swelling- It is usually seen in the extremities of the body i.e., hands and legs. It can be maintained by electrolyte uptake by the body.
- Pain- Usually cancer patients do not experience pain in case of benign tumour. Patients with malignant cancer tend to show symptoms. It can be managed by taking pain medication prescribed by the doctor.
- Dry skin – Also known as radiation dermatitis. It is seen among a lot of patients as the radiation therapy kills the cancer cells. The dry skin symptom is reversible within 2-4 weeks of termination of radiation therapy.
- Recurrent ulcers- It is very common as there is dryness of mouth. Gels, Vitamin capsules etc. help in reducing the ulcers.
B. Long term side effects:
- Dental problems
- Dryness of mouth
- Hearing loss
- Loss of taste
- Reduced lung capacity
- Increased risk of other cancers
- Dental problems- A regular visit to the dentist might help with the caries and oral hygiene of the patient.
- Dryness of mouth- Keeping one-self hydrated, using drugs like pilocarpine which is used to treat dry mouth and throat and use of artificial saliva etc. are the substitutes that can be used.
- Hearing loss- Patients can use cochlear implants in such cases.
- Reduced lung capacity- Lung capacity can be increased by practising yoga and breathing exercises on a daily basis.
- Increased risk of other cancers- Regular PET CT scans, blood tests etc are mandatory to keep a check on the recurrence of other cancers.
Generally physical symptoms are well managed by medication prescribed by the doctors. A good healthy diet prescribed by the nutritionist helps to overcome the fatigue and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
In case of hair loss, since it is temporary its effects are reversible. Sometimes in such cases the patients can approach the NGOs and other cancer support communities to provide wigs to use.
Regular exercise, walking, yoga and/or doing some physical activities helps the body to stay physically strong and helps better recovery.
The standard balance between your mind, body, emotions and spirit is very important to tackle cancer and to lead a healthy life.