The link between cancer and PTSD


‘World Cancer Day’ is February 4th, a day to recognize and raise awareness about cancer and the ripple effect of trauma the disease brings with it.

Nearly 40 per cent of the population will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetimes, which means between those diagnosed, friends and family, this traumatic disease affects over half of the people on the planet. In fact, a new study shows that one-fifth of cancer patients experience PTSD and that PTSD can last for years following a diagnosis.

“Many cancer patients believe they need to adopt a ‘warrior mentality’, and remain positive and optimistic from diagnosis through treatment to stand a better chance of beating their cancer. To these patients, seeking help for the emotional issues they face is akin to admitting weakness,” said Dr. Chan. “There needs to be greater awareness that there is nothing wrong with getting help to manage the emotional upheaval — particularly depression, anxiety, and PTSD — post-cancer.” [Science Daily]

Aspects of cancer experiences that may trigger PTSD include:

  • Diagnosis of cancer (directly or someone you know)
  • Diagnosis of advanced cancer
  • Painful tests and treatments
  • Physical painful symptoms of cancer
  • Test results
  • Extended hospital stays
  • Relapse of cancer

If you’re unfamiliar with PTSD or aren’t sure how to recognize the symptoms, here are some common side effects of PTSD:

  • Insomnia
  • Flashbacks of the trauma
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling shame or guilt
  • Avoidance
  • Irritability and anger
  • Self-destructive behaviours (drinking too much, unusual risks, etc.)
  • Uncontrolled sadness

It’s normal to have some of these symptoms as a cancer survivor. However, if you’re having disturbing thoughts and feelings for more than a month, if they’re severe, or if you feel you’re having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to a professional. []

Recognizing disease as trauma can help you deal with the effects the trauma may be having on your life, and allow you to move towards healing.

It’s encouraging to see that so many trauma survivors are finding solace and guidance in reading ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’, and we encourage those of you who have to share your stories with us. Additionally, our blog is full of information on this topic and others that you may find helpful. And you can always join the conversation with us on Facebook or Twitter.

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