Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is usually associated with soldiers after war, natural disaster victims and other tragedy sufferers. But a new study has discovered that about 20% of individuals diagnosed with cancer also develop signs of PTSD.
What the Cancer PTSD Study Showed
The 2017 study was conducted by the National University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and published in Cancer, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society. The researchers surveyed close to 500 adults with various types of cancer. They were tested psychologically within one month of diagnosis, after six months and after four years.
The researchers found that one-fifth of new cancer patients displayed signs of PTSD related to their diagnosis at the six-month mark. Approximately one-third of those originally diagnosed with cancer-related PTSD still had persistent psychological trauma around their diagnosis four years later. In many cases, the PTSD had actually worsened.
An earlier study conducted in 2016 and published in the journal Psycho-Oncology focused solely on incidents of PTSD amongst breast cancer patients. The German investigation found that a whopping 82.5% of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer had PTSD in the period of time between diagnosis and start of conventional treatment.
Symptoms of PTSD often include feeling emotionally numb, sudden outbursts of anger, difficulty sleeping, becoming frustrated or upset by minor things, feelings of detachment, emotional distancing in general and flashbacks.
Why Cancer Patients Get PTSD
There are many factors which contribute to the trauma patients may experience after a cancer diagnosis, in large part because of the social beliefs and stigmas associated with the disease. Here are just some of the assumptions that are often carried by doctors which can be then transferred to the patient during a diagnosis appointment:
“-The patient is a victim of cancer.”
“-The doctor(s) must take control and ‘fight’ the cancer.
“-We must poison the cancer.”
“-We must radiate the cancer.”
“-We must cut out the cancer.”
“-Cancer eventually (and inevitably) results in slow, torturous death.”
These assumptions also exist in a deep way within may cancer patients themselves and this can exacerbate the shock that natural comes with “the news.”
“Many cancer patients believe they need to adopt a ‘warrior mentality’, and remain positive and optimistic from diagnosis through treatment to stand a better chance of beating their cancer. To these patients, seeking help for the emotional issues they face is akin to admitting weakness,” said Dr. Caryn Mei Hsien Chan, PhD, of the National University of Malaysia “There needs to be greater awareness that there is nothing wrong with getting help to manage the emotional upheaval—particularly depression, anxiety, and PTSD—post-cancer.”
The Solution: Create a Healing Mindset
Stress is the WORST carcinogen (i.e. cancer-causing agent) for your body. Your immune system and your hormones respond to your thoughts. Constantly living on the hormones of stress (such as is the case when a person is under the grip of PTSD) can create inflammation and disease in the body. On the other hand, learning stress reduction techniques and seeking support for your cancer journey can begin to heal both the body and the mind!
A mindset is a “habit of mind.” It is an intention, inclination or outlook that a person has about a subject. A mindset isn’t set in stone; it can change over time. One way to change your mindset is to switch it from one of dis-ease to one of healing.
Say to yourself: My body created this cancer so my body has the capacity to heal from it! You
can also change your mindset by embracing the natural healing mechanisms that your body has instead of “fighting” your body. Here are some other ways to get into a “healing mindset:”
-self-nurturing and self-love (loving the little girl inside of you!)
-reaching out for support
–Tapping (aka Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT)
The fact is that a cancer diagnosis, while serious, is not an automatic death sentence. Nor is your DNA automatically your destiny. You do not have to employ a “slash and burn” policy to your body in order to heal cancer.
There is no doubt that the cancer journey is a stressful one. But, believe it or not, cancer can also be a gift. It can be an opportunity to not only heal your body but become empowered with your health!