According to a Malaysian study, a fifth of cancer patients experiences post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).Almost one-third among these had consistent or worsening PTSD four years after diagnosis.While researchers say PTSD still needs to be identified, monitored and treated as early as possible.
Bone cancer patient Liza Mac, tells her biggest challenges are PTSD and depression. Liza underwent chemotherapy after being diagnosed at the age of 21 and when it didn’t work, she was suggested for a radiotherapy.
“By the time I had finished radiotherapy, and a few months passed, my periods were stopping. It was not until I was 23 that I found out that I had gone through the menopause and was infertile,” she said.
‘I could have saved your fertility’
Liza felt destroyed even more so when she found that it could have been prevented. It left her broken soaked in depression and PTSD, which she still lives with seven years on.
“I could take all the physical stuff. I could take even that I might die but when something’s taken away and it’s not your choice, that’s what I find quite stressful. If you take that person’s choice away, it’s like saying you’re not worth picking for yourself what you want for your future,” she explained.
The team tracked 469 patients with various types of cancer at one referral center in Malaysia.
For six months they tested them for PTSD and then again four years after they had been diagnosed. At six months, 21% had PTSD which dropped to 6% four years on.
“Many cancer patients believe they have to adopt a ‘warrior mentality’, and remain positive as well as optimistic from diagnosis through treatment to stand a better chance of beating their cancer,” says the study’s lead author, Caryn Mei Hsien Chan.
“To these patients, getting help for the emotional issues they face is akin to admitting weakness.
“There needs to be greater awareness that nothing is wrong with getting help to manage the emotional upheaval especially depression, anxiety, and PTSD post-cancer.”
While the link between PTSD and cancer has not been studied in the UK, but the government data shows one in five people have cancer report showing moderate to severe mental health issues. According to Macmillan Cancer Support around 530,000 people are suffering from cancer in the UK.
Living in fear
Dr. Chan also told that a lot of patients live in fear that their cancer may return.
The fear and depression often cause them to skip appointments since they trigger negative memories, which can be harmful to their health.
The study also revealed that patients with a breast cancer – who regularly sought special dedicated support and the counseling at the center were four times less likely to develop the PTSD in the short term.
Dr. Chan says: “We need psychological evaluation and support services for patients with cancer at an initial stage and at continued follow-ups because of psychological well-being and mental health – and by extension, quality of life – is just as important as physical health.”
Dany Bell from Macmillan Cancer Support says: “Its tragic, however sadly not surprising, that so many people with cancer suffer from the PTSD.
“While a popular perception is that people should feel ‘lucky’ to have survived cancer since we often hear from people who felt that the support they received ‘dropped away’ when their treatment completed. The health and care system has a long way to go in terms of the supporting people after cancer treatment.”
Liza could not agree more. She tells her mental health support was insufficient and the consequences remain with her.
“You see children and you try to block it out but realize the depression is something that will keep popping up,” she said. Her cancer is now in reducing however she stills lives in a lot of pain that does not let her work. However, she devotes her time to campaigning for awareness for fertility preservation, and make sure others don’t have to go through the same what she has.