Counseling for Cancer Patients and their Loved Ones
A patient who is first diagnosed with cancer is usually overwhelmed and frightened. Feelings of sadness, confusion, worry, and anger are completely natural. The patient’s psychological and social well-being are impacted, and a patient’s relationship with family and friends can be affected by this as well. The physical/medical hurdles, adjusting relationships and changes in personal philosophy may lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, and it is really important to find ways to address these feelings. Counseling for cancer patients and their loved ones can be a great help during this time.
Counseling can help the patient to better cope with the side effects and the pain that evolves from treatment. It may also help the patient and his family better deal with and express these common feelings, as well as provide a safe place to discuss their concerns.
Most cancer patients have to grieve the loss of their previous lifestyle, learn to accept their new reality, and make the most of their new situation. Many will experience an evolution of their view on life and likely re-assess their priorities. The process of living with cancer is life-changing; for the patient and for those who love them. Facing cancer is an experience that often leads the patient to re-examine his core values and passions and can motivate them to pursue new goals of great personal importance.
Here are some of the ways counseling can help the person facing cancer and their loved ones too:
For Newly Diagnosed
1. A safe place to deal with the emotional impact, worry, and fear
2. Working on addressing feelings of depression, guilt and self-doubt
3. Openly discussing the effects and the impact of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy
4. Developing skills to assist with the side effects of treatment 5. Strategies to manage the stress and pain
For Loved Ones / Caregivers
1. Dealing with feelings of lack of control, anxiety and stress
2. Addressing new obligations and loss of previous lifestyle
3. Helping to gain a new perspective and deal with the new challenges in a healthy manner
For Beyond Treatment
1. Going through the process of grieving the loss of the old self and accepting the new self
2. Living with the uncertainty of long term survival
3. Adapting to the physical changes and limitations
4. Addressing challenges related to intimacy, reproduction, and employment
5. Addressing feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and mood fluctuations
Challenges and struggles in response to chemo and radiation therapy
Cancer is not a disease which will only affect a person physically. It is also something which will affect a person emotionally and psychologically. This has always been the hardest to handle and that’s why counseling for cancer patients and their loved ones is recommended for many oncology patients by their physicians.
Getting to know that a person has cancer is a really hard thing for the patient as well as for the loved onew. Even though people are happy to get treated and healed. There are many times the treatment itself have greatly affected the patients, psychologically. It is hard to say whether it is the side effect of medications alone or a phase of psychological acceptance of the disease. Anyhow, what has become clear is that counseling for a patient should be carried out throughout the whole time of treatment and sometimes even after a full recovery. This might help a patient develop confidence, self esteem and resilience. Whether you admit it or not, all cancer patients are fighters… GREAT fighters. Their confidence goes down only because, at times, they don’t accept it.
Many psychiatrists believe that the transitional period after an intensive cancer treatment is the most likely period to cause psychological distress. For some patients this period may be as stressful, or even moreso, as it was to initially undergo the treatment itself.
Further, the people around the patient might expect the patient to be ‘completely normal’ after the successful treatment and may not appreciate what the patient has already gone through…and is still going through. But, many people do not understand that the cancer patients become more sensitive, anxious and uncertain about things around him. It is very easy to understand. A person who has lived for months in the sorrow, fear and uncertainty of leaving the loved once and all the other things takes some time to get back to who he was. Even though a doctor may confirm their full recovery many patients stay uncertain for a while.
How a cancer patient is affected psychologically depends on many factors. Some of these are:
Overall temperament in normal
Type of cancer
Family/ friends support
Memory and thinking after chemotherapy
Chemotherapy has many side effects. It does not only kill cancer cells, but it also affects many other normal cells in the body. Among these are the brain cells. About 20% – 60% of cancer patients who undergo standard doses of chemotherapy, experience some degree of cognitive dysfunction and memory problems.
The affected brain is casually often called ‘chemo brain’. The main cause of the chemobrain is presumed to be the neurotoxic effects of chemotherapy. The chemobrain causes diffused mental cloudiness and may affect a person’s cognition, social and occupational behaviors, sense of his own self and the quality of life. Moreover, it affects concentration, memory, comprehension and reasoning as well. And the common byproduct of these is our favorite “S” word; stress.
The studies have shown that many people undergoing this type of cancer treatment have problems with short term memory and difficulty recalling words. Some patients are not acknowledged about these changes and are alarmed at the presence of it and misunderstanding it as a spread or worsening of the disease. But, when people know what they are going through, even when scary, painful or difficult they often experience a much lower stress level and consequently are able to prepare and face these symptoms quite bravely.
The effects of chemobrain may exist during chemotherapy and even afterwards up to 10 years, in some cases. These changes may be subtle in most patients, while for some it can be more profound. At the moment there are no specific treatments and preventive measures known, but, if the patients have problems with thinking or memory, which interferes with the daily work, he/she may seek help from a doctor.
There are different memory training exercises and programs and also many other treatments which will improve the brain function such as problem solving abilities and logical thinking. Finding a counselor and being familiar with this situation is a brave step for the patient as well as the loved ones.
As all the other drugs, chemotherapy has its side effects too. But every person does not face the same experience during chemotherapy. Some have really less amount of side effects while the others find it very hard to face the treatment.
Other psychological issues after chemotherapy and radiotherapy
People, who suffer from cancer for a long time, deal with a lot of stress. Moreover, they face problems with sleep, concentration and appetite together with physical symptoms such as palpitations, due to the intensive treatment which they go through. Some oncologists also mention that they find patients fearful and hyper-vigilant.
According to many recent studies, one third of cancer survivors have suffered from symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, which are;
Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the event(cancer treatment)
Reliving the event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)
Upsetting dreams about the having cancer and getting treated
Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the event
Negative feelings about yourself or other people
Inability to experience positive emotions
Feeling emotionally numb
Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Hopelessness about the future
Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the event
Difficulty maintaining close relationships
Counseling Support For Cancer Patients And Their Loved Ones Is Needed
This shows us the huge need of counseling and psychological support for cancer patients together with the cancer treatment. (And caregivers and loved ones also need support during this time.) Even though being alive is something to be happy about, there are some patients who feel guilty about it. This happens mainly if they have a friend or family member who has died with a cancer. As we know some patients join support groups where there are many cancer patients. Here these patients make very close friendship with each other most of the time. Yes, this is a great support to face cancer than fighting it alone. But, with the time, when members pass away the other patients might experience loss, grief and then guilt of being alive. Support and counseling for cancer patients and their loved ones can make a big difference here as well.
Cancer Resilience is one of my areas of specialty and is a personal passion. I am a nationally board certified and licensed professional counselor who is dedicated to my clients. My approach is based on several counseling styles and I tailor them to each patient according to their unique situation. If you are facing this journey, or love someone who is, please call. I’d like to help.
Ben Carrettin is Nationally Board Certified and Licensed Professional Counselor who has worked in the field for many years. His areas of specialty include counseling cancer, cardiac and serious medical patients and their families, as well as other select areas. Ben is also a Lay Chaplain with advanced training in pastoral care and is personally passionate about his work and his commitment to his clients.
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