By Karla Goodhart
Both the cancer and treatment take a hard toll on the body, leading to fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity and many other symptoms. But it also takes a mental toll, both on the person with cancer and his or her family and friends.
The American Cancer Society talks about how people fighting breast cancer often find themselves overwhelmed with emotion, including depression, anxiety, fear and other feelings of distress.
Even after successful treatment, survivors may feel stress and worry. The ACS says many people are concerned the cancer will come back, or they still feel or see physical effects from the treatment, including surgery scars and other changes to their body, or effects on other parts of life, such as altered relationships or missing out on opportunities at work. Cancer is also an expensive disease, leading to financial worry.
Breast cancer can bring with it specific emotional issues. Mastectomies mean women’s bodies look dramatically different, and they may not like their new look or may struggle to get accustomed to it. Survivors often worry about changed sexuality after breast cancer; this is even more pronounced in young women who have gone through treatment. They worry about the effects of the cancer and subsequent treatments on their fertility. Chemo also has been connected to early menopause in some women.
Family members, friends and caregivers also may experience many emotions, along with worry that they can’t help a loved one or don’t know what to do.
According to the ACS, treatment for these emotional issues during and after treatment are critical for overall good health. Many hospitals or cancer treatment centers offer support groups for survivors and family members; talk to your oncologist or primary care provider about connecting with one of those groups, or ask for a referral for a counselor who specializes in such issues. Churches can often be a source of support for people, while others prefer to join an online support group.
For people with questions or who want general support, the ACS’ Reach to Recovery program matches people in treatment with a local volunteer who had breast cancer who can provide answers, offer support and help make cancer treatment be a less isolating experience.