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A cancer diagnosis triggers fear and worry in most, if not all people. Many new terms and treatment options are provided to you at diagnosis. For some people, it can become overwhelming. To help alleviate these feelings in the beginning of your cancer journey, bring a friend or family member to your appointments to help understand the information, ask questions, and take notes. Make sure you ask questions until you understand the answers and the options you have during your treatment.
About 3 of every 4 people with a cancer diagnosis can process the information without feeling totally overwhelmed for months. They often decide to make the best of the time they have with family and friends. They reach out to their family and friends for support. They exercise within their ability. They may volunteer to take their minds off of their own problems. With their physician’s approval, they may do some of the activities that they have put off.
Cancer and Depression
About 1 in 4 people with a cancer diagnosis may become depressed. In other words, they feel very sad and hopeless for extended periods of time. They begin losing interest in their hobbies and family. The pleasure from activities lessens. People with depression have very little energy to do anything.
Cancer and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
About 1 in 10 people with a cancer diagnosis will show enough symptoms of PTSD for its diagnosis within 6 to 8 months or longer.1
Post-traumatic stress disorder develops after a traumatic event: similar situations can remind you of that traumatic event. Many people with PTSD have vivid dreams, nightmares, or flashbacks of the event. People can feel like they are experiencing their event all over again. These feelings can affect a patient’s everyday life as they avoid situations that may remind them of their event.2
People who developed PTSD after a cancer diagnosis had less social support, and often had symptoms of depression.1
2 Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Developing PTSD
- Increase your social support by reaching out to family and friends. Most hospitals also have cancer or chronic disease support groups.
- Eat foods high in omega-3 oils such as a handful of walnuts, a tablespoon of freshly ground flax, or 4-6 oz of oily fish (wild Alaskan Salmon, sardines, mackerel) daily. A recent pilot study showed that people who ate sufficient essential omega 3 oils (technically 1470 mg DHA, 147 mg EPA) immediately after a traumatic event showed lower rates of PTSD.3
1 Tip to Reduce Symptoms of Depression and PTSD
Two types of meditation have been proven to reduce symptoms of PTSD in veterans. Although cancer patients were not tested in the studies, it is feasible that meditation may also help reduce PTSD symptoms.
Consider taking a yoga class that teaches breathing-based meditation. A recent placebo controlled study of breathing-based yoga and meditation in military veterans with PTSD showed a reduction of PTSD symptoms that lasted at least one year.4
Loving-kindness meditation also reduced the symptoms of PTSD in veterans.5
As always, follow conventional wisdom and speak to your doctor about any symptoms of depression or PTSD you are experiencing to learn about additional treatment and support options.
Hahn EE, Hays RD, Kahn KL, Litwin MS, Ganz PA. Post-traumatic stress symptoms in cancer survivors: relationship to the impact of cancer scale and other associated risk factors. Psychooncology 2014.
webMD. PTSD and Depression - Overview, acc.: 2014.
Matsumura K, Noguchi H, Nishi D, Matsuoka Y. The effect of omega-3 fatty acids on psychophysiological assessment for the secondary prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder: an open-label pilot study. Glob J Health Sci 2012;4(1):3-9.
Seppala EM, Nitschke JB, Tudorascu DL et al. Breathing-based meditation decreases posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in U.S. military veterans: a randomized controlled longitudinal study. J Trauma Stress 2014;27(4):397-405.
Kearney DJ, McManus C, Malte CA, Martinez ME, Felleman B, Simpson TL. Loving-kindness meditation and the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions among veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Med Care 2014;52(12 Suppl 5):S32-38.
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