For many people receiving a diagnosis of cancer is a time of huge stress and worry. This can have a direct impact on the cancer sufferer in a number of ways.
- The immediate concern for many is whether the condition may be terminal. Even with medical reassurance and the best possible medical treatments, it is normal to worry about what else may be happening in the body.
- There are financial worries and concerns about access to appropriate treatment as well as concerns about how to maintain as normal a life as possible when all the “rules” have changed.
- Friends, family and work colleagues do not always know how to respond sensitively and may react with too much sympathy and concern or may avoid the cancer patient. However others respond to the diagnosis, the patterns of relationship within the family inevitably change.
- The cancer patient themselves experiences a change in mood and may become very depressed, have periods of irritability or other types of mood swings. This is not only because of the uncertainty of what may happen to them but also because the treatment itself can sometimes have side effects affecting mood.
- The normal routine of life is thrown out by the need to attend treatment and life can become very frustrating with the need to undergo radiation therapy, at times surgery is necessary and often there are large amounts of medication to take.
- Side effects from medication can include nausea, headaches and loss of energy as well as mood changes.
- Cancer itself can cause a range of different pain experiences.
- Sometimes cancer can cause changes to the way the body functions. The most obvious is the loss of hair following radiation treatment but it can also cause hormonal changes and changes in body shape and smell. Surgery can leave scars. All of these changes can affect the patient’s self image and body perception.
- Even following the cancer going into remission some patients report that they react to relatively minor body changes because of a concern that it may be a sign that the cancer is returning.
The good news is that not everyone experiences the whole range of reactions listed above. Some people respond well to treatment relatively early and others experience some of the symptoms relatively mildly. Each person is different and brings a different set of life experiences and strengths to the condition. Psycho oncology is the relatively new branch of health psychology that deals with the particular psychological stressors that arise from the experience and treatment of cancer. Our clinicians also bring a range of experience and specialist interests to helping cancer patients cope and work for the best possible outcomes to their treatment. We have clinicians interested in working with the special issues arising for families and couples, children and the elderly when cancer is diagnosed in a family member.
Our intervention program centres on working in close conjunction with the team of cancer specialists doing the medical treatment and we provide a program to help the patient:
- Increase their own set of emotional resources
- Stabilise their mood and reduce anxiety and depression
- Have an opportunity to talk through issues that have been brought up by the cancer diagnosis.
- Seek additional ways of coping with pain
- Improve stress management strategies
- Adapt to body changes
- Live as full and as satisfying a life as possible
- In New Zealand there is a strong likelihood that the patient will also be referred to the Cancer Society which has a reputation for excellent support and a caring service.
- We have also found the Cancer Council of Australia to be helpful with queries.
- The Australian Cancer Resources Directory is also useful.