KOCHI: Cancer is often an uninvited guest in our lives. It takes insurmountable courage to face such a diagnosis which can be devastating for many people. Yet, we often fail to recognise the other important aspects of the struggle a part from medical intervention. While medicine is crucial in the journey towards recovery, it would only be wishful thinking to find answers to all cancer-related problems through medicine alone. When somebody is diagnosed with cancer, it not only affects that individual, but also those around them. Hence, medical treatment becomes just one part of the whole story as the disease touches one’s social, economic, spiritual and emotional wellbeing.
The simple fact is, in most of the cases, neither our education system, nor society has prepared us enough to face situations like this. Scientific studies have shown that 40-60 per cent of cancer patients experience psychological distress during recovery. If we do not provide the right support, it could eventually lead to anxiety disorders or even clinical depression. Studies have also shown that a patient getting good quality care, psychological and social support would be able to adapt to various ancillary challenges much quicker. Confidence and hope can be an amazing fuel that can make a positive difference in a patient’s life.
Caregiving: A blind spotDuring the treatment, we focus so much on the patient and forget to think about the condition of the caregivers. A caregiver can be anyone, he or she may be a patient’s spouse, child, parent, sibling or even a close friend. They are the primary point of contact for the patient. This means, they often end-up juggling multiple roles and the fact is, depending on the relationship with the patient, each case may raise unique challenges.
Not every caregiver has the same experiences, but it often brings negative attitudes like anger, rage or guilt to people. During the burn-out phase, people may experience fatigue, distress, anxiety and even depression. Caregiving is often said to be a balancing act between the psychological and the logistical. Continuous caregiving and prolonged hospitalisation can be taxing but a caregiver often ignores such hurdles to give more attention to the patient.
If the caregiver’s life isn’t stable, the patient they are caring for is most likely to experience distress. For instance, in the event of an emergency situation on a flight, the passengers are told to put on their oxygen masks before helping the others including kids. This is to ensure two lives are not in danger. Similar analogy can be drawn in the case of a caregiver.
Seeking professional help
For a patient, sharing his or her emotions with someone who is willing to listen can prove helpful. If such emotions start becoming difficult to handle, it is wise to seek professional psychological support. There is a designated super-speciality field to look after the psycho-social needs of cancer patients and their families. Many comprehensive cancer hospitals have a psychologist or psycho-oncologist (psychologists who are specialised in cancer care) as part of their oncology team to help cancer patients and their caregivers to develop new approaches to cope.
With an increased demand since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, tele-psychotherapy is also an option for cancer patients or caregivers. Due to the advancement of technology, many people are opting for the tele-consultation, which not only provides comfort but also convenience considering their busy schedules.
Bincy Mathew is a psycho-oncologist associated with Onco.com, a specialised cancer care application. (Views expressed are her own)