THE BLOG
04/30/2015 12:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Impact of Stress While Living With Cancer

For many people living with cancer, they learn it packs a mighty emotional punch of distress, anxiety and social isolation. Often times, living a full life is derailed and impedes the success of a person's cancer treatment. According to Cure Magazine, more than one-third of patients diagnosed with cancer experience a flood of fear and anger that occurs over time and doesn't go away. More and more doctors are discovering the balanced treatment of the mind and body will not only improve the quality of life of patients but enhance treatment adherence, accelerate recovery times and in many cases lower health care costs.

The medical community's acknowledgement to address a patient's distress offers the positive and balanced approach of treating the emotional and physical ramifications of a cancer diagnosis. These disabling emotions caused by cancer are often compared to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Considered one of the best research studies done on the connection of cancer and PTSD, Duke University Medical Center followed 566 cancer patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma for 10 years after their treatment ended. The study showed that one-third had lasting symptoms of PTSD and another 12 percent reported their symptoms reduced over time.

Although many hospitals and cancer centers have screened patients for emotional distress with accompanying counseling, it has become apparent that addressing the emotional concerns of cancer patients is paramount. Now, cancer centers will need to screen patients for distress to maintain their accreditation with the American College of Surgeons. This new and valuable mandatory offering will standardize emotional counseling that is necessary for many cancer patients.

Based on my countless conversations with cancer survivors about their daily struggle living with fear, anxiety and distress, I recognized the importance of addressing emotional aspects of cancer. To support this need, The Friends of Mel Foundation created the The Art of Living-Life Beyond Cancer conference in 2011 to help survivors tackle some of the toughest emotional and social issues they face. The goal is to have them leave feeling empowered to live a life beyond cancer. Based on research findings from the National Cancer Institute's report on post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer, it was discovered that cancer survivors prefer not to return to a clinical setting since the smells, sounds and sights can be stressful for them. Therefore, the conference is hosted in a comfortable non-clinical environment.

Although so many feel like they are in an inescapable rabbit hole, there are treatments that significantly ease symptoms such as counseling, medications and peer support groups. Just like there are many types of cancers and associated protocols, addressing the varied psychological aspects of cancer needs to be a part of a customized plan. When screening and counseling becomes routine there will be less stigma associated with it.

Most importantly, treating the physical and psychological consequences of cancer may garner the most successful result -- living a quality and healthy life by enjoying family, friends and special milestones.

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