Getting diagnosed with cancer, one of the world’s deadliest diseases, can be devastating. The never-ending medical tests, radiation, medicines, chemicals, side effects, treatment expenses, and the question that never escapes the mind – what will be the outcome of all this? – can take quite a toll on your mental health. It can literally break you down mentally. If you are diagnosed with cancer, there are so many things that you and your loved ones need to think about and consider. But with so much going around, the mental health aspect of cancer is often neglected or the least talked about when in reality it is the aspect that needs to be addressed foremost. At Awaana Health, realize the importance of mental health support for cancer patients. Hence, we advocate it so that more and more people get to know about it. This will ensure that if and when the need arises, people are educated enough to mentally support their loved ones in such demanding times.
Effects of cancer on mental health
According to studies, as many as 40% of people diagnosed with cancer show clinically significant symptoms of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and stress. This data is more than sufficient to indicate that the mental frame of mind plays an important role in cancer recovery and treatment. One of the possible reasons for this is that most oncologists are never really taught about how to manage the mental health issues of their patients during their academic life. Needless to say, there is a need for more focus in this field.
Most common effects on of Cancer on mental health are depression, anxiety,
The effects of a cancer diagnosis on mental health are diverse. It takes a toll on your mental health in more than one way.
Depression: With so much going around, and seeing your loved ones so tensed for you, it is quite natural to feel helpless and depressed. You tend to feel low all the time as if there is no more hope left in the world.
Anxiety: The uncertainty around cancer can lead to an emotional roller coaster of thoughts. “How did I get cancer?”, “What will be the outcome of the treatment?”, “Will I be able to afford it?”, “How will this affect my family?” are some questions of the infinite you might ask yourself. This anxiety often leads to further deterioration of your mental health.
Stress: A cancer diagnosis brings with it huge amounts of emotional and physical stress. It is normal to feel stressed out in such a situation. Physical discomfort, pain, financial burden, and inability to perform daily tasks all of them add on to the stress.
Mood fluctuations: Cancer floods your brain with so many questions and so much uncertainty that it’s become almost impossible to keep your mood stable. One moment you are sad and the very next you can burst into anger. One moment you are trying to cherish little things in life and the very next you burst into tears. These unpredictable mood swings add to the frustration.
Why is mental health support so important during cancer?
Even with excellent medical care, poor mental and psychological health compromises the overall efficacy of the treatment and quality of life, which in turn affects the treatment outcome. Many patients lose the battle with cancer not because of substandard treatment, but because they couldn’t deal with the mental pressure that comes with Cancer and lose the will to fight.
Mental health is often an ignored and underrated element of cancer recovery but it plays a much bigger role than we realize. It is the need of the hour that we understand how crucial the link between cancer treatment and mental health is. One needs great levels of mental strength to steer through all challenges that cancer brings with it.
Poor mental health supports the growth of tumor
Research has shown that stress and depression create the perfect environment in the body for tumor growth and progression, also affecting the overall quality of life. Adversity, depression, and stress have been identified as risk factors whose direct effects include effects on the cellular immune response, angiogenesis, invasion, anoikis, and inflammation. Biobehavioral factors have been shown to contribute to the cross-talk between tumor and host cells in the tumor microenvironment, and stress effects on host cells such as macrophages seem to be critical for many pathways involved in tumor progression.
Being mentally prepared for the treatment
In his book “The Biology of Belief”, Bruce H. Lipton focuses light on one key fact – our minds play a crucial role in our physical health. If you have a positive mindset and are optimistic about a situation, you are already giving yourself a headstart. The chances of your treatment being successful are increased manifolds. In other words, your physical condition is determined by your mind. In the book, he also mentions that cooperation, rather than competition, is the most effective force for development. This means that if you have the cooperation of your loved ones, you can steer through the toughest of conditions.
Getting professional help
Although the mental health support that the family provides is unparalleled, it’s not enough. Despite being surrounded by loved ones it’s still common for patients to feel isolated and withdrawn. Cancer can bring out a lot of pent-up emotions, and regrets, and discussing them with family can add to the stress. A professional can help the patient to properly channel these emotions and guide them through the process. Stress and sleep management is a crucial parts of this process. Professional mental counseling should be an integral part of all cancer treatments and infact some western countries have already mandated it. Cancer can only be dealt with with an integrative approach and mental health is an important part of it.
Mental health affects immunity
Many studies have shown that immunity and mental health are connected. There is constant two-way communication going on between the brain and the immune system. The majority of the people who succumb to cancer don’t really die because of cancer, but because of poor immunity which comes as an after effect of chemotherapy and radiation. It has been seen that people with cancer are a lot more likely to catch other infections because their immune system gets compromised. Hence, immunity directly affects one’s chances of survival, and a person’s state of mind’ impact the strength of the immune system. Stress and depression have a direct impact on a patient’s recovery.
The mental health of caregivers and close family
Cancer not only affects the person diagnosed with it but also their family and friends. We have talked about how important family support is to a cancer patient, but another element that gets missed here is the mental health of the caregivers. Seeing a close one suffering from cancer is a very traumatic thing to go through It is important that along with the mental health of the patient, that of the caregivers is also given importance. If the caregivers themselves are depressed or under stress, then they can’t support their loved ones. Hence, caregivers also need to take all the measures to keep themselves mentally healthy, and if needed, seek professional help as well. Guidance and support for the patient’s caregiver is vital.
The Placebo Effect
When a person who is undergoing a particular treatment has no faith in it, chances are the treatment won’t be successful. Psychology plays a vital role in the effects of a treatment or drug on the body. The person who is diagnosed with cancer needs to have faith and believe that he/she will get better, this can act as a placebo that makes the body accept and tolerate the therapy better and results in an overall good prognosis. There have also been some studies to see the effects of the placebo effect in Cancer patients where patients were given placebo pills post radiation and they saw positive results in terms of reducing side effects, pain, fatigue, and quality of life.
Importance of family support
Getting diagnosed with cancer can leave you vulnerable on all fronts. The role of family and friends during such a turbulent time holds paramount value. Having loved ones and close family support is very reassuring. Cancer is exhausting physically, mentally, and financially, having the support of family and loved ones helps keep the patient’s morale up. The role of the family in the mental health support of a cancer patient is irreplaceable.
Effects of mind-body practices
Mind-body practices can prove extremely helpful during cancer as they combine mental focus, breathing practices, and body movements to help with side effects, pain, physical discomfort, and relaxation. Practices like meditation, yoga, and ‘pranayama’ can greatly help in managing stress, bringing calmness and positivity while improving the overall quality of life. It’s also helpful to work with a yoga therapist who specializes in working with Cancer patients like we have at Awaana Health.
The transition from Reactive to a Proactive form of care
Medicine and healthcare are undergoing a wave of transformation that is unprecedented in its impact on the entire healthcare system. A major force behind this wave is that today, more than ever before, millions of people are seeking an approach to healthcare that is more comprehensive, more holistic and integrative, and more compassionate to their needs as a whole person. This is particularly true for those dealing with cancer.
‘Integrative Oncology’ is the need of the hour. Mental health is a key component in integrative oncology, which is a patient-centered, evidence-informed approach that utilizes mind-body practices, lifestyle modifications, and non-clinical therapies that aid recovery interweaved with conventional medical and surgical cancer treatment. It is the foundation and core philosophy on which we founded Awaana Health.
It is true to say that adequate mental health support can prove to be a real blessing during cancer. It is something that is so overlooked that it is worrying. Hence, adopting the Integrate Oncology approach, which considers your mental health, is the need of the hour. The right kind of mental support during this sort of turbulent time is something that can make a difference. It can accelerate your healing process, give you enough mental strength, increase the chances of a successful treatment, and enhance your bond with your loved ones. All it takes is just a little bit of love and care and trust us, it can alter the course of this deadly disease for the good.