01 Jun Seeking support for cancer-related distress: A Patient Perspective
This blog is brought to you by our partners at Blue Note Therapeutics, a prescription digital therapeutics company singularly dedicated to helping patients live better. Read below to learn about a patient’s perspective on seeking support for cancer-related distress.
It’s not always talked about, but psychological distress from cancer is a common and serious challenge for patients. Studies have shown that of the nearly 18 million cancer patients and survivors in the United States almost everyone suffers from some degree of distress related to their cancer. In fact, more than half of these patients have clinically significant levels of distress. Anxiety, depression, and fatigue are just a few of these symptoms which may come and go over time, affecting not only mental but physical health. For one patient, Meridithe Mendelsohn, the journey to recognize and overcome cancer-related distress started immediately following her diagnosis with a very rare thyroid cancer. Read on to learn more.
Thanks for joining, Meridithe and your willingness to share more about your experience with cancer-related distress. Can you tell us a bit about what led you to seek support?
- A cancer diagnosis is frightening and life changing. As I have experienced and heard from many others who have received this news, a form of white noise takes over as the questions and life reflections overwhelm your mind. Unfortunately, I was alone when I received this news. How could this be possible? I wasn’t sure who to call or what to do next.
What kind of support did you receive?
- Going to the integrative medicine center was very supportive. The practitioners were quite attentive and the conversations felt natural. After reviewing my situation, I began a regular schedule of acupuncture and signed up for meditation classes that were specific for people with cancer. These interventions helped reduce my stress and anxiety. I also began to see a psychotherapist who reinforced the value of a meditation practice and provided training related to coping skills, for example how to manage negative self-talk.
How has psychosocial support helped you?
- The support I received to manage my stress and the coping skills I learned have been life altering for me, along with my life partner, a psychologist, who has been a pillar of support. I’ve had a meditation practice for decades but taking classes helped me connect the value of meditation to being able to cope with treatment and after-effects, reducing my anxiety and overall stress. In addition to treating physical issues, the acupuncture also supports my emotional state. The practitioners listen and suggest possible techniques for managing stress such as breathing techniques and taking different perspectives on my self-talk.
What barriers did you encounter, and how did you overcome these?
- It was so difficult to decide who would be my best emotional support within my family and friends. I didn’t want anyone to pity me and think I was no longer competent to manage my life and work. At the time, I was the administrator for a very large breast cancer program where patients are truly the center of the health care universe. What I knew of the support services available within this group turned out to not be accessible for my particular diagnosis. Similarly, when I moved states I had to find another team to support my oncology care and found myself at an institution that had support services but they were handing me pages of websites to explore but no links to humans. Thankfully, one of my friends who had a similar diagnosis a few years earlier was very helpful and recommended types of complementary support that were helpful to her. Following her lead, I decided to locate an integrative medicine center and arranged for services.
What advice would you give to patients that encounter distress?
- It is common to be given a page of online resources but it is very hard to do this kind of research when you are not feeling well, or if you’re anxious. Find someone who can guide you, or get help exploring resources through your cancer center’s resource center. You can also ask to see a social worker who may be able to recommend something or someone who would be helpful.
Remember, you are not alone. Meridithe’s experience with cancer-related distress is not uncommon. In fact, screening for and treating the emotional turmoil that goes along with cancer is recommended by leading cancer research and advocacy organizations. While it can feel uneasy, speak to your care-team about your feelings of distress as soon as possible. They should offer direct help or refer you to someone who can assist with identifying effective cancer-specific therapy, support options like groups, or psycho-education. Oftentimes this can be achieved without medication, such as through counseling or tools that are provided via your smartphone or tablet to reduce anxiety and depression, and ultimately, improve quality of life both immediately and long-term. As in Meridithe’s case, a trusted friend who has been through cancer may be able to suggest resources that they benefited from to help you as well.
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