A study found that over half of all women with newly diagnosed breast cancer have a significant amount of emotional distress or mental trauma as compared to others, such as serious depression.
So, it is normal to experience a range of emotions after hearing such shocking news, from sorrow to fury. However, even after the initial uncertainty and sadness have passed, some people may develop significant mental traumas of breast cancer.
Breast cancer affects about 200,000 women in the United States alone each year. Fortunately, cure rates for women whose cancer is discovered and treated early remain high. Now, more women are surviving breast cancer. So, the long-term quality of life during and after treatment has become a major concern.
Emotional discomfort and depression are two common disorders of mental traumas of breast cancer. They can impair one’s quality of life and ability to work. These issues affect many breast cancer patients during and after treatment. But very little is known about their effect on women before cancer treatment begins.
6 Mental Traumas of Breast Cancer
The first thing to remember is that you are not alone. Researchers discovered that women with breast cancer commonly suffer depressive symptoms. These problems impact their quality of life and adherence to treatment.
A patient may have the following mental traumas of breast cancer:
1. Severe Emotional Distress
The most common mental traumas of breast cancer patients are severe emotional discomfort. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) has endorsed a simple questionnaire known as the “Discomfort Thermometer” as a tool to evaluate whether emotional distress is seriously harming your life.
2. Major Depression
Depression is more than just a passing sadness or a feeling of emptiness or loss. So, it is a mental disease characterized by a depressed mood and an inability to enjoy pleasure. Hence, it is important to consult your doctor if you feel any of the following:
- General Unhappiness. Most of the time, feeling sad or hopeless
- Negative Thoughts. Constant feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness about the future
- Loss of Interest. Lack of motivation; even small activities appear to be a major effort.
- Reduced Concentration. Inability to concentrate on basic chores or even conversations.
- Social Issues. Avoiding people, lash out when others try to help
- Guilt and Poor Self-esteem. The feeling that your problems are all your responsibility or that you are unsuitable for anybody.
- Physical Problems. Difficulty sleeping, noticeable weight loss or increase, headaches or body pains
- Suicidal Thoughts. Daydreaming about death, contemplating suicide
3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Individuals who have PTSD may have experienced bodily harm during a traumatic event. Also, PTSD is commonly associated with combat veterans and victims of violent crime. But it can be just as serious in cancer patients, who are also concerned about their safety and death. In fact, according to a study, most newly diagnosed breast cancer patients (about 80%) have PTSD symptoms.
The following are symptoms to look out for:
- Reliving the Moment. Intensely distressing memories of the period prior to your diagnosis
- Avoidance. Going to great efforts to avoid places or people who remind you of your diagnosis’s traumatic experience
- Increased Arousal. Feeling easily shocked or angry; inability to sleep or focus as if danger is imminent
4. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
A study of 152 breast cancer patients found that roughly 32% had GAD. It is an anxiety disorder characterized by a general sense of unease or fear despite little or no threat.
GAD patients spend most of their days worrying, often to the point of mental weariness. They also suffer from physical symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, muscular tightness, and sleep disturbances.
Suicide is more common among cancer patients. The risk is two times greater than in the overall population. The following facts increase the risk of suicide:
- Non-controllable pain
- Untreated depression
- A lack of social support
- Substance abuse
- A family history of suicide
Suicide thought occurs at a rate of 8% among cancer patients. And it can lead to an actual attempt at a rate of 2–6%, especially in the terminal stage.
According to studies on the issue, the risk of suicide greatly increases when depression is present. Moreover, factors including substance abuse, hopelessness, and the stage of sickness increase this risk. Actually, most breast cancer patients are well-adjusted. But, single individuals with advanced-stage breast cancer who have low socioeconomic situations have been reported to be at a greater risk of suicide.
6. Sleep Disorders
Insomnia is one of the most common symptoms reported in cancer patients. Sleep problems affect 50% of cancer patients. But a higher risk is in women and a higher occurrence among patients with breast cancer than other cancers. Sleep problems and other symptoms worsen significantly when a patient has terminal cancer, especially in the final stage, reducing the quality of life.
Acute or chronic pain, depression, delirium, anxiety, nausea-vomiting, tiredness, infections, and high fever are other symptoms that cancer patients commonly experience. Sleep problems are known to increase mortality in cancer patients. Those with breast cancer have a greater rate of insomnia than patients with other kinds of cancer.
What to Do After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Seek Emotional Treatment
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, keep in mind that they are common and that you do not have to battle alone. There are several important steps you can take to address your symptoms and concerns:
Reach Out To Others. Depend on trusted friends and family members. Request that your clergyman put you in touch with other people of your religion who have been treated for breast cancer. Find local support groups. They are usually offered by hospitals that specialize in breast cancer treatment. Your doctor should also be able to provide you with information about local support groups.
Consult with your doctor. Your mental health is important to the effective treatment of your physical condition. It is important to notify your doctor about any ongoing problems you are experiencing. If you want more help, request a referral to a mental health professional.
Know Which Symptoms Require Immediate Attention
If you suffer any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor or a local hospital right away:
- Suicidal thoughts or continuing daydreams about the death
- Risky behavior, such as drinking to the point of blackout or driving recklessly
- Inability to eat or sleep for some days
- Severe difficulty breathing or calming down as a result of anxious feelings
The Bottom Line
Patients with breast cancer require a complete and holistic approach to care. Nurse Practitioners, who have been trained to understand all of the elements that can compromise or better a patient’s care, are in a unique position to understand these patients’ requirements and offer the specific support they needed.