PTSD and Cancer
I have written before in this blog and at length in my book, A Commonsense Guide to Life After Breast Cancer, about the prevalence of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) in women who have had cancer. Although this label is more commonly applied to soldiers coming home from war, accident or natural disaster victims, or people who have experienced other disasters, I have always felt it was often relevant post cancer. Certainly, being diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness and experiencing a range of difficult, often painful, sometimes disfiguring, always frightening, treatments and being left with a changed life view qualifies for this term. I think I also like the concept because it defines the issue as being stimulated by an event, circumstances, something beyond our control. When, in contrast, we think about depression (also common, of course), it can seem more self-focused.
Here is a quote about risk factors for PTSD from ASCO's Cancer Net and then a link to read more:
It is not clear why some people with cancer develop PTSD while others do not. Some factors may make a person more likely to develop the disorder, including a younger age. Another study shows that survivors of childhood cancer, especially those who had longer and more intensive treatments, have an increased risk of PTSD.
PTSD also seems to be more common for:
People who have had PTSD or other mental health conditions before being diagnosed with cancer
Women from minority groups
People with high levels of overall stress
People who use avoidance strategies as a way to cope with stress, such as using drugs or alcohol
People with less formal education
People with low or no income
Factors that may make a person less likely to develop PTSD include getting strong support from family and friends, being given correct information about the stage of the cancer (where it is located, if or where it has spread, and if it is affecting the functions of other organs in the body), and having good relationships with members of the health care team.
Please remember that PTSD is highly treatable. If you see yourself in any of this, it is important to contact a mental health provider, ideally someone who is familiar with cancer and its treatment. A few sessions will make a big difference.