The part of cancer we forget to talk about: mental health

Today is World Cancer Day, a day to raise awareness about one of the leading causes of death in the world. Did you know 9.6 million people die from cancer each year? And that cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide? While almost all of us are familiar with the physical toll cancer takes on its victims, we need to bring an important piece into the conversation — mental health.

Between those diagnosed, friends and family, this traumatic disease affects over half of the people on the planet. New research has shown that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur with cancer survivors. And since we know that symptoms of PTSD can follow any traumatic event, directly or indirectly experienced, it makes sense that that PTSD from cancer can be widespread.

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. [Cancer.net]

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.

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