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Cancer Related PTSD

Doctor's hands on table facing cancer patient

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often associated with military veterans or survivors of extreme events such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or violent crimes. However, PTSD can also occur in individuals who have undergone cancer treatment.

Before my cancer diagnosis I had been diagnosed and treated for PTSD for a previous trauma, so I know first hand how hard PTSD can be to navigate. Mine had been untreated for 20 years and looking back I can see how it impacted my relationships with friends, family and colleagues as well as my romantic relationships. To an outsider I seemed to have it all together & was living the 'perfect life' I had nothing to be depressed about. However, I was hyper vigilant around perceived dangers, prone to angry outbursts and had many avoidance behaviours. After living with these symptoms for most of my adult life I was severely triggered by a couple of events and everything cumnivated in anxiety, depression and a pretty major mental breakdown.

On a related note - research has shown there is a link between PTSD and ovarian cancer.

Cancer is a life-threatening illness that can cause significant stress and trauma, not just physically but emotionally and mentally as well. Surviving cancer often requires a prolonged and intense treatment process that can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other interventions. While the primary goal of cancer treatment is to cure the disease, it can also have significant side effects, including fatigue, pain, anxiety, and depression.

The trauma of cancer treatment can result in a range of PTSD symptoms, such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks, and avoidance behaviors. These symptoms may persist long after the completion of treatment and can negatively impact the individual's quality of life, social relationships, and mental health.

Research studies have shown that a significant percentage of cancer survivors experience PTSD symptoms after treatment. A study by the American Cancer Society found that nearly one in four cancer survivors experienced symptoms of PTSD six months after completing treatment. Another study conducted on breast cancer survivors found that nearly 30% of participants reported experiencing PTSD symptoms three years after treatment.

The symptoms of PTSD after cancer treatment can vary from person to person. Some individuals may experience intrusive thoughts or memories of their cancer diagnosis or treatment, while others may have nightmares or flashbacks. Some individuals may try to avoid situations that remind them of their cancer experience or may feel emotionally numb. Others may become hyper-vigilant or irritable, experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety or fear.

The impact of PTSD on cancer survivors can be significant. It can interfere with their ability to enjoy life, maintain relationships, and function in daily activities. PTSD can also lead to other mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse.

Although I know how to manage my PTSD reactions to cancer due to my previous counselling, I still find myself thinking every ache and pain is cancer coming back. So far this month I've had ear cancer, a recurrence of ovarian cancer, shoulder cancer and ankle cancer. I know I'm not alone in these worries & I'm pretty good at managing my reactions now but the thoughts still pop into my head.

Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for individuals experiencing PTSD after cancer treatment. One common treatment option is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts and behaviors related to their cancer experience. CBT also helps individuals develop coping strategies to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Another effective treatment option is eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), which involves the use of eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to help individuals process traumatic memories and reduce their emotional intensity. Mindfulness-based interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), have also been found to be effective in reducing PTSD symptoms in cancer survivors. These interventions involve the use of meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness practices to increase awareness and acceptance of one's thoughts and feelings.

It is important to note that seeking treatment for PTSD after cancer treatment is not a sign of weakness or failure. It is a brave and important step towards healing and recovery. It is also important for cancer survivors to have a support network of friends, family, and healthcare providers who understand and support their emotional and mental health needs. I wish I had known earlier and had treatment for my PTSD before I got to the stage I did and I advise anyone to seek help as quickly as possible. If you have supported a loved one through treatment you may also find you have some of the symptoms and this should not be played down. My partner has negative reactions to certain situations that remind him of my treatment; this is totally understandable when you've seen someone you love go through something so traumatic and you felt helpless.

In conclusion, PTSD after cancer treatment is a significant mental illness that can have a significant impact on a survivor's quality of life. However, effective treatments are available to help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their mental health. If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of PTSD after cancer treatment, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional who can provide the necessary support and resources. Remember, you are not alone, and healing is possible.

Not everyone who has cancer treatment will go on to develop PTSD or depression but if you notice any of the symptoms in yourself or are worried about someone you are caring for, my advice is to seek professional help as soon as you can.

As my psychologist told me about my PTSD 'If it didn't get you when it got you it would have come back to bite you at some point. It might have taken another 20 years but it would have caught up with you eventually'.

If you find yourself needing to talk to someone after reading this article you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or The Cancer Council on 13 11 20


Mental Health Support for Life After Cancer

These are the products that helped me exercise during treatment.

What the F*ck Just Happened?

A Survivor's Guide to Life After Breast Cancer

Click to purchase

The Cancer Survivor Handbook

Your Guide to Building a Life After Cancer

Click to purchase

Support Resources

Cancer Council Australia

CCA an organisation to support all Australians affected by cancer through support, research and prevention programs.

Ovarian Cancer Australia

OCA is an independent national not-for-profit organisation, supporting women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Our focus is to provide care and support for those affected by ovarian cancer; and represent them by leading change. Our vision is to save lives and ensure no woman with ovarian cancer walks alone.

Breast Cancer Network Australia

BCNA Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) is Australia’s leading breast cancer consumer organisation. We have worked tirelessly to ensure that all Australians who are affected by breast cancer receive the very best care, treatment and support.

Bowel Cancer Australia

BCA Peer-to-Peer Support Network connects patient’s and loved ones on a one-to-one buddy basis that enables members to give and receive advice about their bowel cancer experience in an informal and mutually beneficial way.

Leukaemia Foundation

LF is a support service for patients and supporters dealing with blood cancers.

*FU Cancer is supported by its audience. If you choose to purchase through the links on our site we may receive an affiliate commission. This goes towards paying our expenses plus a percentage of our monthly profit goes towards directly helping people with cancer. If you know someone who could do with a boost during their cancer treatment please let us know here.

*FU Cancer is supported by its audience. If you choose to purchase through the links on our site we may receive an affiliate commission. This goes towards paying our expenses plus a percentage of our monthly profit goes towards directly helping people with cancer. If you know someone who could do with a boost during their cancer treatment please let us know here.

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