Surviving Psychological Impacts of Cancer

Surviving Psychological Impacts of Cancer
Cancer Does Not Discriminate
There are at least twenty different kinds of cancer. In other words, most any body organ or part can be affected at any given time. Cancer affects men, women and children of all ages, and it doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor, or the innately strong or weak. And because of this, each person is going to react to the news in a different way, and their ways of coping will be different, depending on their personality, socio-economic status, and spirituality.

What Causes Trauma?
It is now known that there are around five lifestyle changes that profoundly impact a person psychologically in the negative. They are mostly associated with loss, and the top three are the death of a loved one or pet, loss of a job, and divorce. Even so, nothing strikes more fear in a person’s heart than to think they might die, and this particular knowledge without question, should be at the top of the list. What do you do when you hear this news?

Response to Trauma
The first thing I did was cry – at least after the initial shock wore off. I was fortunate enough at the time to have the support of both my parents. To be honest, we did not have an “everyday” relationship. Most of time, what brought us together were crises, and although this is not a balanced way to live life, at least I had them then. I was, and will always be very grateful for that blessing.

Life Changes That Require Help
From the moment you find out, your life changes forever. Your mind has to switch gears, and your body, if you choose to have surgery, is altered. Treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy also change the body at a deep, molecular level. Simply put, you have to retrain your thoughts to adjust to the new you. And, like a domino effect, other changes occur. What about work, the kids? How will my husband/wife feel now that I’m different? Why did this happen, and where is God? How is this done?

Psycho-Oncology: What is it?
Psycho-Oncology is not knew and was pioneered by a doctor by the name of Jimmie C. Holland. She discovered that it took two groups (teams) of people to help a patient to get the best recovery possible.

"It Takes a Village" Approach
According to this collaborative and yet genuine approach, anyone can benefit regardless of their social standing, income, personality, or family dynamic. In her years of research, and with a keen eye on both the medical and human aspects, Dr. Holland discovered that each patient needs two groups of people to help them through the process. One is called a Support & Comfort Team which would consist of family and close friends.

The second is called The Medical-Psychological Team consisting of the Personal Care Physician, Oncologist, Surgeon, Nurse Practitioners, a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Social Worker, and Clergy. Hemmed in by these two teams, a patient is much more likely to be able to cope mentally and physically, through the surgery, treatments, life issues and long term side effects of cancer.

Coping Strategies
Here are several coping strategies:

1. Find out as much as you can about the cancer.
2. Realize that it is ok to be sad and angry.
3. Reflect back to your past and take an honest look at how you handled bad situations. Write down your weaknesses, but more importantly list your strengths.
4. Know that no matter how bad your coping skills have been in the past, every person has the ability to learn good and balanced coping skills, no matter their age, money, or social standing.
5. Put together your own support teams as listed above.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; and the earlier, the better.

Help in Your Own Backyard
There is a wealth of information on the Internet that can help you. On the other hand, look into your local resources where you live. I found the social workers and mental health organizations at a local hospital to be the best kept secret in my town. And, if you know someone who is displaced that needs help and may not have access to a computer, help them out. You can be the change that they need. You may not only help save a life, you might save a mind, as well.

Jimmie C. Holland, MD is author of the book, The Human Side of Cancer. She is a Psychiatrist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. You can view Podcasts of The Human Side of Cancer. Visit MSKCC website to view them.

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