This post is sponsored by Med-IQ but all opinions are my own. Med-IQ, an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals
The other day, a question was posed to me, “What’s the most challenging thing you’ve experienced in your adult life?” The answer was simple: being diagnosed with two different types of cancer in one day, more than a decade ago.
That’s why today I am sharing my story of surviving my cancer diagnosis in more ways than one. One of the most important aspects of surviving cancer is managing stress and anxiety. And stress management is essential, not only for you, but also for your friends, family, and caregivers. Everyone around you is affected by cancer.
Distress and Cancer
Merriam-Webster defines distress as, “pain or suffering affecting the body, a bodily part, or the mind.”
My cancer diagnosis was followed swiftly by distress, not only for me but also for my ultimate concierge, Shelly, and of course our friends and family.
For the patient, they are focused on their own distress, as well they should be, but it is important to recognize that those around you are also under distress which may be different, but is equally as crucial to treat.
What Distress Looks Like
The symptoms of distress are different for every person. Here are some of the most common ways that psychological distress can manifest physically:
- Sadness, fear, helplessness
- Anger, feeling out of control
- Questioning your faith or purpose
- Pulling away from people
- Concerns about your social role, eg, as a mother, grandmother, wife
- Sleep disturbances
- Appetite changes resulting in losing or gaining weight
And of course, all of these things affect your quality of life at a time when your body needs all the help it can get in physically fighting cancer. Supporting yourself mentally is crucial.
How to Talk to your Healthcare Team About Distress
Recently, I was lucky enough to participate in a group that got expert advice about how to deal with the distress associated with a cancer diagnosis including the type of expert healthcare that we should expect, perhaps even demand, when dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
I’m so happy to share with you this list of questions that are the type of things you should hope to hear from your healthcare provider when dealing with a cancer diagnosis. These questions were shared with me directly by Lillie D Shockney, RN, BS, MAS, ONN-CG, University Distinguished Service Professor of Breast Cancer and Professor of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Your healthcare team may ask you questions like this…
- How much do you know about your cancer?
- How much do you want to know about your cancer?
- What are you hoping for?
- What are you most worried about?
- What are three things that bring you joy?
Shockney makes a point of emphasizing that your caregiver is also dealing with distress. To that end, it is ideal to encourage everyone dealing with your cancer, including loved ones, to speak up at doctor’s appointments about their own stress as well. Together, we are much stronger.
Well-being for all is the best way to support any patient faced with a cancer diagnosis!
Getting Help and Support
I’ve personally survived cancer, and therefore I understand many of the physical and emotional repercussions. Support is everything! I encourage you to get it whether you’re dealing with your own cancer diagnosis or that of a loved one.
Cancer Care is a non-profit with a free hotline for patients or caregivers in distress. Other resources you may want to look into include cancersupportcommunity.org, NCCN.org/patients; or www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/emotional-side-effects/distress.html.
As many of you know, I was so blessed to have the unending support of Shelly in both my battle against cancer and my continued mission to be proactive about my health.
After each of my CT scans for the last decade and more, Shelly has purchased me a survival gift after I pass my annual CT scan with flying colors. He placed the first bracelet on my wrist and said these words, “This bracelet has meaning. It is a full circle with no breaks. We are forever together on your journey.”
This began a custom. After each successful CT scan, he would march me over to a favorite boutique to select a bracelet with my input, at times, and then take me out for lunch to celebrate my survival or as he would say, “our survival.” Support means everything.
No matter what stage of a cancer diagnosis you are at, I want to leave you with one key thought: HOPE. There is so much hope to be had and I have so much for you and yours. Yet, while we look ahead to the hope of a healthy tomorrow, dealing with cancer calls for a commitment to be well today, for you and your family.
Talk about your distress, share the burden of cancer with others and together, there is an abundance of hope for the best possible outcome. I should know, I’ve been right where you stand now, I’ve walked in your shoes, and I’m still here, challenged and changed by cancer, but ultimately, victorious.
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I was compensated by Med-IQ through educational grants from AbbVie, Astellas, and Genentech to write about managing distress for cancer patients and their caregivers. All opinions are my own.
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