What Is PTSD And How Can A Cancer Survivor Survive From This?

cancer voice in asia
A hand screaming for help. Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

Hello dear readers!

So this time, I would like to discuss about this topic (if you are keen on “talking it over” after you read this article) about PTSD. But before I will continue, I want to be clear to everyone that this topic is about psychiatry/neurology and I don’t have any medical background to put into words this point at issue but I will share to you an experience which is very common to every cancer survivor and try to let you understand in a language that we all could make sense of.

Some experts in this field wanted to accentuate that the word “disorder” in Post-traumatic stress should actually not to be referred to as a disorder. In fact, from a neurological standpoint, it is a reordering of the brain’s neural networks and pathways and sensory pathways in order to survive a dangerous situation.

Okay, so I just mentioned PTSD. What is that?

It is not just a simple everyday stress.

By definition, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people developed after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, sexual assault, or even cancer.

PTSD is real for most cancer survivors. Dealing with anxiety after surviving cancer battle is actually another battle that a survivor needs to survive once more.

And for most cancer survivors who experience anxiety after the successful treatment always believe that they are really experiencing PTSD as it has always been identified since then. And the label “PTSD” seems like a “domino effect” that the latter cancer survivors believe that they are too experiencing the same.

Whether we mark this experience as PTSD or not, how sad to realize that a cancer survivor has almost no rest from surviving, but it’s true, it’s real. Most of us have to deal with the anxiety what cancer has brought to us.

Even myself, I thought that after my radiation therapy treatment, I will be okay and finally free from fighting about my life and how to stay alive. But the fact is, I continue to fight after my treatment. A fight from the feeling that I’m about to die or I’m gonna lose my mind, but actually I’m not.

After my radiation therapy treatment sessions, I have to take care of my completely burned skin every day, and with that, I feel like I have to hide from everyone because I didn’t like the fact to be asked about my wound and illness every time I meet a friend.

Well, it actually happened. I hide from everyone and I thought of running away and hiding from people who I used to know can help me. But the results are opposite. These are the signs I observed during the 5 months I was very anxious:

  • Nightmares & flashbacks
    What did I do?
    All the negative events happened to me before I had cancer keep coming back as if it always haunts me each day.

  • Avoiding places, events, people, or things that bring back any memories from the past
    What did I do?
    I preferred to stay in the corner in the room after work and avoided all messages from friends who are near me.

  • Strong feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or shame
    What did I do?
    I sent all negative and toxic messages to myself that makes my self gradually deteriorating especially my self-esteem.

  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
    What did I do?
    I tried to manage to sleep early but I just couldn’t.

  • Continuous feelings of fear, irritability or anger
    What did I do?
    I easily got angry and irritable to few persons who are close to me and in return, they never understand me. Instead of letting them know the exact feeling I feel inside I rant and unfortunately, the result is, one of the people close to me deliberately cut our connection.

  • Loss of interest in activities (or relationships) that used to be enjoyable
    What did I do?
    I lost interest to socialize even to go back hosting an English Club event which I used to do it for more than a year already.

  • Unwanted thoughts
    What did I do?
    Kept thinking of negative thoughts.

  • Difficulty feeling emotions
    What did I do?
    I thought I could keep up with being positive at that moment, but that was difficult in that bleak, unguarded moment.

Funny thing is, after listing down the signs of PTSD, which I got from Cancer.net, I almost got all the signs & symptoms except self-destructive behavior, such as drug or alcohol abuse.

Therefore I can say that having these signs or one of these signs should not be taken for granted and should be given attention as soon as possible before this anxiety disorder will turn into deeper depression or the worst clinical depression.

How to know who to help, who needs help?

Whether that person is your friend, neighbor, colleague or a family member, by simply looking at them without questioning what he/she has gone through with his/her life, you cannot tell that they experience some traumatic event at some point of their life. You will never know that he/she needs help until such then, you will see that precious loved one already drowning in a very deep ocean of depression.

The sad thing is, you cannot see it, hear it or feel it.

The worst thing is they’re not going to talk about it – only them can see the dark wallowing shadow of distress, hear the echoes of anxiety and feel the torturing flashbacks of a life-threatening event that happened in their life, such as cancer.

However, within those 5 months of detaching myself from other people, isolating myself from my loved ones and anxiety grows more each day, I notice that my brain and my body are gradually exhausted.

But I thought I have to do something.

In the middle of my fight against anxiety, I could probably help myself by doing something that helps my body and mind restore to an energetic and a positive person.

I realize that I cannot control whatever circumstances that may show up in my life even after my treatment from cancer but I can always control how I react to it.

I honestly and sensibly decide if I wanted to stay anxious or be drowned in the abyss of anxiety. These negative emotions that I felt after my treatment and those negative emotions I got from other people who heedlessly know that they did will never let me go unless I am willing to let this toxics go.

Letting it go was not easy but it is rewarding at the same time when you finally get back in a condition where you have inner peace, calm, and untriggered.

I start working on my physical body first. I did whatever my body pleasures to have to, like massage and as well as guided imagery (such as prayer or meditation). It was during that time also, my first time I did meditation because I want to look for solutions myself without asking anyone yet. And with meditation, what I (or anyone) could benefit is to reset our breathing back to normal. And by doing this regularly, it will actually increase our ability to focus, decreased mind wandering, improved arousal levels, more positive emotions, decreased emotional reactivity, along with many others.

I don’t know what works for you, but my only clear motive is to know where are you now after you finally finish your cancer treatment. It may not easy to say this, but I will be glad if you are now in the full range of positive emotions with your loved ones. But if not, do what’s the best for your body, listen to your body and feel what it sends to your brain.

Do it now, not later.

Are keen on talking this topic over? Just leave your comments below.

Cancer Is Hard, And So As Depression

cancer; asia; depression; vietnam; philippines
Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

My thoughts… are just everywhere. I could not even focus. My mind is blinded, racing, and beating right out of my chest.

I had been diagnosed with cancer, I followed all the treatments. Now, I’m back home, I can go back to work.

I am not even sure if I will miss my old before my cancer. I embraced my cancer, but I am not living with cancer.

Oh, so you’re still alive, how unfortunate are you!

You are wrong.

Cancer sucks and so as anxiety or depression.

Wait… depression? Don’t get me wrong. I am referring to depression that is more common for everyone even for those people who don’t have cancer.

Depression is not the same as clinical depression. But, if you just let yourself go deeper into different symptoms of depression, you will be more likely stuck in a major depression.

To be honest, if you are gonna ask me how I’m doing, it is a question that I just really want to give a reply.

But if I won’t reply, you will misunderstand me and you will start to drift apart.

Do you think it is easy to answer this question for a cancer survivor? Because you know what? For a cancer survivor like me, I choose not to talk about my cancer and allow me to live my new life with the same people who used to surround me.

Oh, yes, I got it. Some of you will not eventually stay, well, this is my new life!

We choose not to talk about our cancer because this is one of the ways we can cope easily.

You may think that I give up, well, it’s the only way to survive.

I prefer to stop thinking about my cancer, meet new friends, go somewhere I have never been and do things I have never done.

**In one of my research results reveals that depression is more common for people with cancer who often struggle with uncertainty, challenges, and fear that a cancer diagnosis can bring.

According to Cancer.net, depression is a collection of symptoms that group into 4 categories: mood-related, cognitive, physical and behavioral. Because cancer and cancer treatment can cause similar cognitive and physical symptoms as depression. More emphasis is placed on the mood-related and behavioral symptoms for people with cancer.

What are the symptoms?

  1. Mood-related symptoms: feelings of sadness, hopelessness, irritability, numbness, or worthlessness.
  2. Cognitive symptoms: they are related to a person’s thought process, it decreases the ability to concentrate, difficulty making decisions, memory problems, and negative thoughts (severe depression can include thoughts of suicide).
  3. Behavioral symptoms: crying often, social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed and a loss of motivation.
  4. Physical symptoms: fatigue, low energy, poor appetite, sleep problems, lower sex drive.

How does depression affect cancer treatment?

Depression or clinical depression (there two don’t have the same level of stress as what I had mentioned from my previous blog) can worsen the physical effects caused by cancer, sometimes increasing the losses experienced by the patient (for example fatigue caused by depression can worsen the fatigue caused by cancer treatment).

So what are the common ways doctors treat people with depression (the first 2 points can be done carefully even without doctor’s endorsement)?

  • Emotional and social support can help people better cope with the daily challenges that cancer brings.
  • Main treatments are counseling and medication (sometimes both, but must be done by a qualified doctor).
  • A talk with a counselor or a right person/friend (for mild depression).
  • The main goal of counseling is to enhance coping in problem-solving skills, help find support and reshape negative self-defeating thoughts.

There are numbers of counseling options: individual counseling, couples or family counseling and group counseling.

The following are just the inescapable facts of everyone’s life that we cannot change.

You may not have cancer but you are in pain. It may not every day like how a cancer patient feels but it is clear that we cannot stay away from sadness, worthlessness, or anxiety.

Suffering, regardless, it is something that we can be in charge of. We always have the option to stay happy than to be stuck in an utterable turmoil of depression or anxiety.

And only yourself can do that. Your friends and families’ support is more than enough but it’s useless if you already made a choice inside. And that is, to be filled with sadness and negativities.

It is not easy, being happy does not happen in just one snap, but if you are decided after making a choice to turn your life upside-down.

You can see the beauty of the process of taming your brain’s emotional response. Whatever life throws at you, you will always keep returning to a conscious and mindful state of mind. And you will be able to recognize your emotions within yourself and even in others and to manage them daily.

Any thoughts you want to share regarding your struggle and struggle with anxiety and depression?

Just leave your comments below.



The Exceptional, Brave Cancer Warrior

Mich Herreros - diagnosed with Liposarcoma, a cancer survivor.
Mich Herreros – diagnosed with Liposarcoma, a cancer survivor.

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