How The Shock Of Cancer Diagnosis Can Impact A Person
If you are diagnosed with cancer, the prognosis can be both shocking and frightening. It’s hard to imagine life after diagnosis, and you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to deal with what has happened to you.
The shock of a cancer diagnosis can have a significant impact on your mental health in addition to impacting your physical well-being. That’s why it is important to know what disorders the psyche of a cancer patient undergoes, how the mental state affects treatment, and why cancer patients need psychological help and other socioeconomic support. This thing is very realistically defined in the short film Hearing Cancer.
Hearing Cancer is the real stories of people who were diagnosed with cancer and beat it. The film also defines the role of family members, friends, and doctors who were there during those tough times.
How do patients react?
People react differently to emotionally difficult news and events. However, in the 60s of the last century, psychiatrist Kubler-Ross found general patterns of psychological response that occur in most people and in 1969 proposed her theory. Initially, the Kubler-Ross model of grief was used to describe the emotional state of dying people and those who have lost a loved one, but it has been used in other areas, including oncology and even career psychology. Five stages of grief apply not only to the patients but also to their loved ones:
- Denial is the first reaction of a person to a diagnosis. This is a defense mechanism that the psyche turns on in response to difficult news. The person, as it were, does not even believe that he can have cancer; it seems to him/her that something was mixed up in the laboratory, the doctor made a mistake with the diagnosis, or took the medical history of another person.
- Anger. When the patient returns to “real” life, he/she reacts to the news with anger. The question most often asked is “Why me?”. Believers, as a rule, blame God for the illness, they are angry that He did not protect him/her. In his/her illness, a person blames others and complains about life’s injustice. It is important at this stage to release and process anger. The sooner a person releases anger, the sooner it will go away.
- Deal. The patient, as it were, conducts internal negotiations with the disease: “If I recover, I will do charity work”, and “If there is a remission, I will never smoke again.” Believers are trying to deal with God, for example, “If my husband is cured, I will become a better wife, I will do everything for him.” With these auctions, a sick or close person tries to reassure himself/herself; this gives him/her a short-term feeling of carelessness.
- Depression. It occurs when the patient begins to fully realize the presence of oncology. As a rule, people have a feeling of inner emptiness, guilt for events in the past, and a feeling of hopelessness. For some, apathy arises – the desire to do something disappears because many believe that any activity is already meaningless. At this stage, a person prepares for the loss in the future.
- Acceptance. The patient resigns himself/herself to the state of affairs and accepts the situation as it is, without trying to bargain, blame and get angry. He/she agrees with reality. A person spends time alone, thinks a lot about the value of life, and calmly perceives the outcome of the disease, even if it is fatal.
The response to disease depends on stereotypes about oncology, the experience of interacting with medical institutions and doctors, and also on whether there was a family history of oncology. The reaction may vary depending on the stage of acceptance of the diagnosis and prognosis: shock, denial, aggression, depression, or acceptance. Much depends on the type of personality: in one patient, anxiety and suspicion predominate; in another – aggression, denial, and negativism.
Signs of grief typically include crying and tearfulness, headaches, sleep disturbances, feelings of meaninglessness, withdrawal, eccentric behavior, anxiety, restlessness, and malaise. At this time, the patient questions all his worldview beliefs, including religious ones, if he is a believer.
How mental health affects treatment
WHO 2020 stats show that cancer has killed more than 10 million people worldwide, making up one-sixth of deaths worldwide. Here you should know that people with depression may have worse cancer-related outcomes than cancer patients without depression. According to a study, “Cancer-related deaths were also found to be 41% higher in individuals diagnosed with depressive disorders after their cancer diagnosis than in those without a diagnosed depressive disorder.”
People who believe in their cure are more diligent in fulfilling the doctor’s prescriptions, do not miss taking medications, and visit the doctor and exercise therapy more often.
The Role of a Doctor, Friends, and Family Members
Healthcare professionals need to be sensitive to the delivery of bad news. Avoiding eye contact or providing too much information at once can result in anger and even hostility. When the diagnosis is delivered, doctors should provide adequate time for the patient to ask questions and any requests they may have.
For family members, one of the best things they can do is offer support by remaining calm and reassuring their loved one that they are not alone in this experience. Encourage them to speak openly about their feelings and ask what they would like from you. Seek professional counseling together if needed. Offer to accompany them on visits with medical personnel, to appointments with therapists and other providers, and give rides if they don’t feel comfortable driving themselves anymore.
Show your understanding by staying with them as long as they need company, and let your presence serve as a reminder that you’re there for them no matter what happens next. We can see in Hearing Cancer how the help of friends and family members helps the survivors to beat cancer.
Remember, once you’ve gotten past the initial shock and are ready to move forward with your treatment, there are many ways to cope with the challenge ahead of you and feel empowered about the decisions you’re making about your cancer treatment.
- Monkhouse, Kistein. (2022). Hearing Cancer. Patient Orator. Retrieved September 19, 2022 from https://vimeo.com/745488082/e9e3223958
- Psycom’s Editors. (2022). Five stages of grief – understanding the Kubler-ross model – psycom. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.psycom.net/stages-of-grief
- Sherrill, C., Smith, M., Mascoe, C., Bigus, E., & Abbitt, D. (2017). Effect of treating depressive disorders on mortality of cancer patients. Cureus. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.1740
- World Health Organization. (2022). Cancer. World Health Organization. Retrieved September 19, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer