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The Patient’s Emotional Journey

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Your emotions and cancer

The emotional journey through head and neck cancer is a life-changing experience for most patients. Whether you’re trying to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis, going through treatment or grappling with fears of recurrence or death, there’s no right or wrong way to feel. It’s very important, though, to remember that you don’t have to deal with cancer on your own. Talking with people close to you and having a supportive cancer care team can be a great comfort during your journey, and your treatment outcome is more likely to be positive as well.1

Up to 75 percent of cancer patients experience a high level of psychological distress.2 Galway K, Black A, Cantwell M, et al. Psychosocial interventions to improve quality of life and emotional wellbeing for recently diagnosedcancerpatients. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2012 Nov 14;11:CD007064. Stress has been shown to slow recovery. 3 Powell ND, Tarr AJ, Sheridan JF. Psychosocialstressand inflammation incancer. Brain Behav Immun.2012 Jul 9. Therefore, minimizing stress and anxiety should be a part of your treatment plan. To do this, it’s important to maintain a strong support network and work to develop coping strategies. It can be quite difficult to maintain relationships and make your emotional well-being a priority during cancer treatment, but it is important to try.

Some people find emotional balance relatively quickly. Others struggle throughout their diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Even if you feel you are coping rather well with your cancer on your own, you might consider seeking out a support group or counseling with a trained professional or spiritual adviser. A support group made up of people going through experiences similar to yours could help you to feel less isolated and anxious. It also has been shown that a patient’s religious beliefs can have a positive effect on cancer treatment.4 Richardson P. Assessment and implementation of spirituality and religiosity incancercare:effectson patient outcomes. Clin J Oncol Nurs.2012 Aug 1;16(4):E150-5. Similarly, regular counseling and/or behavioral therapy beginning soon after a cancer diagnosis can reduce or even eliminate some symptoms of depression and anxiety in cancer patients over the course of a year or more in treatment.5 Kangas M,Milross C,Taylor A,Bryant RA. A pilot randomized controlled trial of a brief early intervention for reducing posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depressive symptoms in newly diagnosed head and neck cancer patients. Psycho-Oncology.2012 Oct 8. It is worth considering these options and others as you work through your cancer journey. Give yourself every advantage you can.

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The anxiety of not knowing what was going to happen to me left as soon as the doctor developed and communicated to my wife and me what his plan was. I felt at least we’re all taking charge now. We’ll get through this thing.Gordon O. (laryngeal cancer survivor)

More about the patient’s emotional journey

Your emotional journey through head and neck cancer will be unique, but we’ve collected the most common concerns of head and neck cancer patients in this section.

The Impact of Diagnosis

A head and neck cancer diagnosis is not easy. Everyone reacts differently. This section will help you to deal with the emotions involved with waiting for and receiving your diagnosis.

Anxiety, Fear and Depression

It’s normal to experience some anxiety, fear and depression in the course of your diagnosis and treatment. This section will help you recognize and handle the symptoms and difficulties that go along with these issues.

Coping Strategies

Here, patients share some ways to help cope with the emotional challenges of head and neck cancer.

When to Seek Help

Certain feelings and emotions may indicate a need to seek additional professional help. This section addresses the signs that you may need to seek help.

Guide to Intimacy and Relationships

Side effects and the emotional impact of cancer and cancer treatments can create changes with intimacy and make relationships more challenging. This section will help you address and work through these changes.

Addressing Addiction

Tobacco and alcohol are contributing factors of head and neck cancers. It’s important to stop using both during treatment. This section provides tips and resources on how to quit smoking and drinking and how to avoid relapses.

Dealing with Recurrence

Recurrence means that cancer returns after it has been treated and eliminated. Head and neck cancer recurrence almost always creates an emotional crisis for patients and their caregivers. This section helps you deal with the emotions that come along with a recurrence.

Making Peace with End-of-Life Decisions

There are variables and unknowns with each unique cancer case, so decision-making is difficult for most people. It is common to second-guess and worry about the path you choose. This section is meant to help both you and your family to feel comfortable with your decisions.

Death and Dying

Everyone copes with fears of death and dying and the process of accepting death differently. This section helps address logistical and emotional issues that come along with death and dying.

Resources

A variety of books and websites can help you during your emotional journey through head and neck cancer. This section addresses these emotional resources.


References

1 Cardenal V, Cerezo MV, Martinez J, et al. Personality,emotionsand coping styles: predictive value for the evolution ofcancer patients. Span J Psychol. 2012 Jul;15(2):756-767.

2 Galway K, Black A, Cantwell M, et al. Psychosocial interventions to improve quality of life and emotional wellbeing for recently diagnosedcancerpatients. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2012 Nov 14;11:CD007064.

3 Powell ND, Tarr AJ, Sheridan JF. Psychosocialstressand inflammation incancer. Brain Behav Immun.2012 Jul 9.

4 Richardson P. Assessment and implementation of spirituality and religiosity incancercare:effectson patient outcomes. Clin J Oncol Nurs.2012 Aug 1;16(4):E150-5.

5 Kangas M,Milross C,Taylor A,Bryant RA. A pilot randomized controlled trial of a brief early intervention for reducing posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depressive symptoms in newly diagnosed head and neck cancer patients. Psycho-Oncology.2012 Oct 8.