The MCA BlogConnecting with others one story at a time
When one hears the word cancer, along with the initial shock often comes anxiety. There is the anxiety of waiting for a diagnosis. There is the anxiety of treatment and all the various physical and emotional feelings that go along with it. There is the anxiety of what will happen to your family if you don’t survive.
And then afterward, there is an entire other level of anxiety when you realize that you did survive!
Life can certainly be turned upside down when cancer strikes. But there is also an adjustment to surviving cancer that many people who have not been through the experience may not realize. You need to be able to deal with the changes that the disease has made in your life, and you have to learn how to adapt to them. Just as there are different stages of cancer, there are different stages to survivorship, as well.
Costs of Treatment (and more…)
Many cancer survivors have additional anxiety due to the incredible costs that can occur during treatment. In a 2014 study on the additional costs of cancer treatments, it was estimated that males had an increased annual cost in their medical care of $4,187, and for females it was $3,293. This is substantial when you consider for many they are experiencing a loss in wages due to their illness.
As an added issue, many people don’t have insurance to cover this, or their insurance may be inadequate to cover all the costs. Even with the passage of Obamacare, which has helped many individuals receive insurance who otherwise might not, there are still many costs that may not be covered, or deductibles that need to be met before coverage begins.
Mesothelioma survivor Patricia Powell Hargrett told the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, “My husband and I were very fortunate to have health insurance which was purchased when I retired from the Orange County Schools. Having insurance to take care of medicine bills was a big help.” Nonetheless, Patricia and her husband still faced difficulties. “We were required to pay 20% of each bill that we occurred during surgery and chemo treatment. However, we were not able to pay the 20% health cost all at once. Because I was not of age to receive social security, my individual finances were limited. It took us a couple of years to finish paying all of the medical bills.”
And then there are all the other costs that often are not covered by insurance. This includes things like traveling to see specialists in other cities or states, as well as staying hotels and paying for restaurant or cafeteria food while there. These additional expenses can really add up, especially for rarer forms of cancer like mesothelioma.
The anxiety around costs of treatment and collateral expenses typically comes from not knowing how they will be paid. However, some of that anxiety can be alleviated by knowing that there is help out there.
- Depending on age and income, government programs like Medicare or Medicaid may be able to help pay costs for the uninsured or those with inadequate insurance.
- Clinical trials are often paid for through public or private grants, allowing some patients to take advantage of emerging treatments with low or no cost.
- Nonprofit organizations can help manage unexpected costs like travel, lodging, and food.
Also, if the cancer is caused by a defective product or known carcinogen, such as asbestos, cancer survivors may have a legal right to receive monetary compensation. Talking to a reputable law firm may open up opportunities for payments due to exposure to deadly substances, which can ultimately help alleviate at least some of the anxiety associated with the costs of cancer.
Going Back to Work
Dealing with the costs of cancer may be one reason that some survivors choose to eventually go back to work. Fortunately, modern medicine allows many survivors to continue working after treatment, and sometimes even during. Such situations take a big adjustment, however, and depending on the type(s) of treatment (chemotherapy, surgery, radiation), survivors can experience long-term side effects that can cause anxiety once they return to work. Long-term side effects of cancer treatment can include:
- Becoming too tired, too fast
- Hair loss
- Substantial weight loss
- "Chemo brain”
Because these long-term physical effects can impact work efforts and relationships, it’s important for survivors to discuss their ability to take on work with their oncologist before starting (or restarting) a job. Taking on too much, too soon can cause even more anxiety and may exacerbate side effects or even lead to new conditions that otherwise might be preventable.
Whether starting a new job or returning to employment from before being diagnosed with cancer, survivors may experience “first day jitters.” Management, co-workers, and business partners may not know how to connect with a cancer survivor, which might lead to avoidance or awkwardness. Others may be too forward, or may overcompensate by “mothering” or trying to be overly helpful. While these extremes can be annoying, the best thing approach is to be empathetic towards others, who are feeling their own form of anxiety, but to also be candid about how their actions may be making things worse.
Recurrence, Ongoing Conditions, and the Unknown
Cancer may go into remission indefinitely, but there is no actual cure – partly because cancer is not a single disease but many different diseases that are similar, yet not exactly the same. The potential for recurrence is always in the back of the survivor’s mind, and that constant, overhanging peril can cause anxiety. With every follow-up, there’s the possibility of hearing bad news that the cancer has returned.
In addition to the possibility of recurrence, there are also the physical effects of ongoing conditions. Cancer survivors may never regain the same level of physical health they had before being diagnosed, and their bodies may experience ongoing exhaustion, pain, or other symptoms caused by the very treatments that helped them survive the disease. These physical problems can lead to mental and emotional problems that exacerbate their overall anxiety.
Patricia Powell Hargrett says hearing others’ stories and relying on her faith helped her get through the worst times. “Everyday, I read articles on individuals with cancer. Many survivors are concerned with cancer recurring. I rely on my faith, and I do not focus on recurrence. I always try to remain positive, no matter what it looks like or how I feel. Whatever state I am in, I am assured that God will take care of me.”
Patricia also focuses on the things she can do, both for herself and for others, rather than the things she can’t do. “I try to live my life to the fullest each day. I live to be a testimony and to help others fight the battle to become cancer survivors. I help by listening, offering nutritional tips, and encouraging those with cancer to exercise and never lose their faith.”
There are also some physical things individuals can do when they are feeling anxious. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has recommended that cancer patients and survivors be screened for anxiety, and they have recommended treating anxiety through a variety of techniques, such as:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Deep breathing
Other survivors have used creative outlets, such as coloring or writing, to help them relieve anxiety. Finding the method that works best for you is the most important way to deal with any anxiety you may be feeling.