Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Cancer

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is gaining recognition as a side effect post cancer treatment.  In my research on this topic I am finding online articles on PTSD and breast cancer, lymphoma, bone marrow transplants and mothers of children diagnosed with cancer.  Finally people who are in the cancer world and find themselves depressed and/or anxious (and that is lightly defined) are being diagnosed and successfully treated for PTSD – and we need not feel ashamed anymore as we are validated in our inability to cope with life post treatment.

Lost, alone, confused, anxious, unsure, unable, insecure, isolating, depressed, angry, sad, hyper-vigilant, afraid – these words describe me as I wandered in my post treatment wilderness.  I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did especially when I defeated cancer and I should be abounding in thanksgiving and gratitude.  Four years ago I was a “deer in the headlights” as the car barreling down the road called “New Normal”  caught me unaware.  I didn’t know what to do or how to adjust to and accept my post cancer state – and what is that preposterous “new normal” anyway?

The following is an article from the National Bone Marrow Transplant Link. (click nbmtLINK for more information)  The information on PTSD is for any one suffering post treatment from any cancer or as the caregiver of a cancer patient, especially a child.

Survivorship Guide for Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant

Coping with Late Effects

 Depression and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The extent to which your emotional health is affected by a transplant depends on a complex interplay of your health status and personality, genetic factors, social support, financial situation, and other concerns. For most people, emotions about their experience change and evolve over time. Typically, feelings of sadness or anxiety are transient. For some, however, these feelings may persist and interfere with daily life. Individuals who experience ongoing sadness, emptiness, or anxiety that does not go away may be suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Depression is an illness that can affect all aspects of life. It involves a persistent feeling of sadness, emptiness, and loss of joy. People with PTSD often have frightening thoughts or memories about their trauma. They may avoid the places or things that remind them of the traumatic event, may have angry outbursts, a feeling of being on edge, or a feeling of being emotionally numb. The symptoms of PTSD can develop shortly after the trauma or sometimes years later.

I suffered from severe PTSD after the transplant. I had gone through a long period of cheerful façade – kept everyone feeling positive. After many setbacks, when things finally started looking up, I crashed emotionally, and it took a while to get back to being the positive, active, courageous person I was before.

I am sometimes inside for 3-5 days hiding from the world. I have a lot of anxiety. Everything involving confrontation is overwhelming. After calling to correct a billing error, I got so upset, I shook for hours afterwards.

 People with depression or PTSD often cannot “pull themselves together” and may need some type of treatment to resume a healthy emotional life. Treatments for continuing depression include talk therapy, counseling, and antidepressants. In cases of mild depression, alternative treatments such as acupuncture, guided imagery, relaxation, and other therapies can also provide relief. PTSD is different from depression and is often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches people to separate their strong emotional reaction from the memories of the event. A therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has also been found to be effective. Other useful techniques for treating PTSD include group therapy and relaxation tools such as guided imagery and hypnosis. Medications to treat depression and anxiety may also be helpful in resolving PTSD.

 Therapy and antidepressants have been very helpful in dealing with my depression.

I was referred to a psychiatrist who was wonderful and put me on one antidepressant after another until we found the right one. I am still taking it.

 Don’t deny depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder – get help when you need it.

 My next article introduces my “blog book”, PTSD and Cancer: Lost, alone and afraid.  My cancer story regarding my outlook and attitude throughout the treatment phase is like most other patients; I was focused, enthusiastic and upbeat.  It is my post treatment story that may be different than other cancer survivors and I am confident this story may be the story to help another who is suffering as I suffered with a deep and dark depression called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

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