Dealing with anxiety during a cancer prognosis
Anxiety is a common feeling that patients sometimes have when coping with upcoming surgery or even the possibility of a cancer diagnosis. Seeing medical specialists, going through tests and having cancer treatment can be stressful. Some patients living with cancer have a low level of distress, whilst others can be highly distressed. During cancer diagnosis and treatment, patients may feel a loss of control, be fearful, panicked, or uncertain. They are not unusual responses to the upheaval of cancer.
In contrast to the adjustment to surgery or a potentially life-threatening condition, anxiety can also be a condition that has been present for a very long time. During the normal daily life, anxiety can be managed reasonably well; however, with additional stressors, patients lack options to handle these new stressors. In such cases anxiety can suddenly have profound effects on the health of patients needing the input of a gynaecological oncologist.
Our physical and mental health are connected. Poor physical health can affect you mentally, and poor mental health can affect you physically. In my almost 20 year experience, I find that patients with severe anxiety that is left untreated face a worse prognosis than patients with no anxiety or where the anxiety is treated.
It is important for our practice to find ways of helping you to deal with your feelings. Here I discuss some ways that may help reduce anxiety during cancer.
- Find other patients to talk to who are going through the same journey. In my office, we can arrange contact between patients, we can also do this for patients who require certain operations that don’t involve cancer. It can greatly help someone when you can share your experiences and ways of coping with someone in a similar situation as you.
- Develop relaxation methods. Breathing, mindfulness, or yoga. Try deep breathing and relaxation exercises several times a day. Researchers reviewed seven clinical trials which overall included 888 cancer patients and found that mindfulness-based interventions effectively relieved anxiety and depression among patients. Another review of studies found women with a breast cancer diagnosis who practiced yoga improved their mental health.
- A balanced and nutritious diet will help you to keep as well as possible.
- Exercise. Regular exercise can be a healthy distraction. Exercise produces endorphins (chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers) and also improve the ability to sleep, which reduces stress. Physical exercise has attracted increased interest in rehabilitation of cancer patients. Particularly for patients undergoing chemotherapy, exercise can reduce the number and severity of physical and psychosocial treatment-related side effects and improve a patients’ quality of life. I am currently involved in the ECHO trial. The ECHO trial evaluates the effects of an exercise intervention during firstline chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. For those who may be interested in participating in the trial see here
- See a GP with a special interest in anxiety. I do not prescribe medication for anxiety because it is outside the spectrum of my qualification. I witnessed that for some patients medication has worked wonders. They are so more relaxed and are able to tolerate treatment a lot better and enjoy life again. Think about also asking your GP to refer you to a psychologist who can work with you and your family for ongoing help.
- Beyond Blue also has a 24-hour anonymous phone service for those suffering mental distress. The Cancer Council (13 11 20) helpline is a free, confidential telephone information and support service for cancer patients.
Anxiety is not a condition that can simply go away easily, and like all forms of therapy, the effect can vary.
Anxiety, if not addressed properly can affect cancer diagnosis and treatment in many ways. Almost never patients decline or request procedures acknowledging that they are anxious. Some patients may decline certain diagnostic procedures. This means that the information collected from a blood test or CT scan may be lost.
Other patients request procedures because they are anxious.
The above strategies are a good starting point to controlling anxiety, and after trying some different options you will find what works for you.
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