The Role of Psycho-Oncology in a Cancer Diagnosis
Psycho-Oncology. My path has taken me in so many directions I never would have dreamed of. Ever since my cancer diagnosis, I have discovered a lot of things about myself, about treatment, and about the disease itself. There are a few things I’m absolutely sure of in my life: among them is that cancer is more than abnormal cell growth. In all of my research, I have found there are emotional roots to a lot of different diseases. For me, it makes a lot of sense, and the pieces have been fitting together ever since I started exploring the emotional aspects of my cancer diagnosis.
As it turns out, this idea of our emotional and spiritual well-being having an impact on our physical well-being isn’t a new approach. In fact, there is an entire medical field devoted to the psychological, social, and environmental impact of cancer on patients known as psycho-oncology. In fact, a 2015 study suggests that “a link between soul and wisdom is suggested for further exploration…garnering wisdom from the expertise of those living with cancer should be the central aim of our field.”
Psycho-Oncology Focuses On Emotional And Social Health
Interestingly enough, we know for a fact that people have a better prognosis for surviving cancer when there is a good support system in place. Friends and family are crucial in recovery from cancer, and psycho-oncology strives to understand and further explore why that is. A 2003 study about the support systems for breast cancer patients has come to an interesting conclusion. Patients with a good social support system of family and friends had less mental health issues, lower medical costs, and better outcomes. Medically speaking, the study shows that people who have support throughout their chosen treatments are more likely to beat cancer.
Emotions And Cancer Connection
It is well-documented that a cancer diagnosis causes a significant amount of psychological and emotional distress. Psycho-oncology aims to help reduce this type of distress in patients and improve the quality of life of oncology patients. Anxiety and depression are among the biggest psychological issues in cancer patients, and understandably so! But anxiety and depression have also been proven to lead to cancer in patients. That means anxiety and depression can cause cancer, which can lead to greater anxiety and depression. See where I’m going with this? It’s a never-ending cycle! A 2013 study made a groundbreaking discovery when they found a much higher risk of cancer in those with diagnosed General Anxiety Disorder than those without anxiety. What that tells us is we need to be more proactive in recognizing the physical toll your emotional state can play on a person.
Importance Of Social And Psychological Support In Cancer Treatment
A May 2017 study analyzed mothers who were diagnosed with breast cancer. The study focused on qualitative and quantitative data of mothers with minor children and the impact the diagnosis has on her outcome. It is very interesting in the way women with cancer shift their priorities and perceptions, and the study shows that women in particular can benefit the most from a good psychological and social support system after a cancer diagnosis.
To go a step further, the quality of a relationship also tends to play an important role in the effectiveness of treatment for various types of cancer. In December of 2017, a study showed that there is a higher risk of secondary cancers in those with psychological distress. The study looks at relationships and relationship quality as a factor. Those who have fewer good relationships and those who reported depression and anxiety had a higher risk for being diagnosed with another type of cancer later on.
I’ve Been Diagnosed With Cancer And I Don’t Have Emotional Support
So, what do you do if you have been diagnosed with Cancer, but you lack the emotional support needed in your healing journey? Shocking enough this is a reality for many people that face a cancer diagnosis. I’ve come to believe that many cancer patients struggle to recover for this very reason. Many depend on care-givers or spouses that are emotionally abusive and truly don’t care about these patients’ well-being. If you are in this situation let me tell you, you are not alone but you must become your biggest advocate. You have to be intentional to seek support outside your circle and do whatever it takes to self-preserve. Here’s a list of resources I have implemented that have worked for me and others to help create a healthy environment:
- Make friends with people that are in same journey
- Speak life to yourself
- Breathe and stay in the moment
- Focus on what you want not on what you don’t want
- Celebrate your progress
Although I had known about boundaries I had no idea how to implement them. Setting boundaries is a good place to start, knowing your limits and understanding what you need in order to be calm and cared for is a must to help you avoid undesirable situations and people that will not benefit your healing course. The book titled “Boundaries” by Dr. Towsend & Dr. Cloud is a great read to get you started.
While many see prayer as a last resort to run to when everything else fails, I have personally found prayer to be my first and most a vital practice in my own healing journey. Some may call it meditation or a moment of stillness, but the truth is that during this moment of prayer I find peace and an opportunity to engage in intimacy with the creator of the universe, our Heavenly Father. This moment of connection often floods me with unexplainable peace and hope, despite my circumstances.
New Circle of Friends:
I intentionally surround myself with people that will support me and lift me instead of causing more fear in me, I have a close friend to go to if I need to. This friend often reminds me to slow down, focus on the moment and take small steps.
Speak Life to Yourself:
Call into existence things that don’t’ yet exist! I’m not suggesting that we should deny the facts. Yes, we were diagnosed with cancer. That’s a fact. But I believe God can bring life to the dead and call things into existence that do not yet exist. [Romans 4:17]
Although it is a fact, we must not go around saying “I have cancer.” Instead, we should say, “I am healed.” “I am Loved” “I am Accepted.” This will help persuade ourselves to, in FAITH, change our self-image. It is unexplainable really, but something very powerful is released when we practice this, regardless of our circumstances or how we feel.
Staying in the moment is the most significant expression of true living! Think about it. Can you change the past? Can you control the future? Most likely the answer is no but what about our present? Yes, indeed we have control of we can live at this very moment. Breathing exercises and keeping aware of this concept can make a huge difference in your present emotional state.
Focus on what you want not on what you don’t want:
Because we tend to operate in default mode, based on the habits and mindsets that are deeply ingrained in our subconscious mind. You need to get your conscious and subconscious mind in alignment! Come into awareness and focus on the things you want for your life instead of what you don’t want. Renew your mind! Work to create a new mindset that is intentionally proactive instead of reactive, positive instead of negative.
Celebrate your progress:
We set goals and expectations that may not take place at times, instead of feeling angry or resentful we must be intentional with the way we choose to perceive our situation. Perceptions are powerful to influence our mood and actions. Although you may not be where you would like to be you can still celebrate with much joy your progress which I assure you is a step forward in the direction you want to be headed. The finish line is great, but the process is what molds you into who you are.
Becoming healthy is not only to focus on your physical treatments but also on self-care, self-love and preserving your emotional health. Psycho-Oncology is taking cancer treatment to new levels. The field recognizes the importance of emotions and psychological well-being on outcome. The specialty goes to great lengths to ensure people are getting all of the emotional and psychological support they need. Quality of life is an important factor in treatment. It will be very interesting to see the field of psycho-oncology delve even deeper into the emotional causes of cancer. We have seen it touched on, and I hope that we begin to see this acknowledged in mainstream treatments and protocols in the future.
For more information on psychosocial care during cancer treatments, this book is an excellent tool. It looks at caring for the whole patient, not just the physical aspect of fighting cancer.