Anxiety in the Cancer Experience
By: Grace Van Cleef
My mom has always had a stereotypical “Type A” personality: hardworking, meticulous, and high achieving. Of course, this has been a benefit throughout her life. She holds two and a half jobs, but she loves her work and she tackles each day with spirit. As the choir director/organist of a local church and conductor of a local community choir, she has never had a dull moment.
A few years ago, however, my mom started to feel less equipped to do the work she loved. A typically energetic person, she started to feel unusually fatigued in a way that had never been a problem for her before. Doctors suggested that her lifestyle was finally catching up to her, but she wasn’t about to scale back without exploring every possible option first. After months of seeing specialists and seeking second opinions, the problem was finally revealed: she was diagnosed with cancer. While this came as a relief after searching for answers for so long, it also came with all sorts of new things to worry about. Treatment options, health outlook, and cost of care were just the tip of the iceberg. My mom’s fast-paced mind, normally a benefit to managing her career and family, turned to overthinking about all the ways this diagnosis could lead to disaster in her life. My whole family had to learn to cope with the anxiety involved in loving someone with cancer.
This anxiety is certainly familiar to others whose lives have been impacted by cancer. Cancer Support Community’s (CSC) latest report* from their Cancer Experience Registry® – an online survey for anyone who has ever been diagnosed with cancer or who has provided caregiving to someone with cancer – shows that one-half of patients in our registry may be at risk for clinically significant levels of anxiety. Additionally, one-half of caregivers in our registry reported anxiety symptoms that were worse than the national average for anxiety. The majority of both the patients and caregivers also expressed substantial concern that the (patient’s) cancer would progress or recur. The emotional side effects of cancer can be overwhelming. Understanding and coping with anxiety is valuable for both patients and their families.
In some ways, anxiety is a crucial part of life. In my mom’s case, listening to the warning signals in her head pushed her to ask for multiple opinions, which eventually led to her cancer diagnosis. Anxiety can inspire us to seek out help and information. However, it is important to recognize when anxiety becomes unproductive or even harmful.
At CSC, we work to develop programs that can help reduce anxiety among cancer patients and caregivers. Our Cancer Support Helpline, 1-888-793-9355, assisted 18,000 callers last year. Our online discussion boards at MyLifeLine.org, along with our affiliate locations, provide support to cancer patients wherever and whenever they need it. We have been able to enhance our cancer care programs and services due to the wealth of information provided by the Cancer Experience Registry. By adding your voice to the Cancer Experience Registry, you can help us assist people like you to address the emotional burdens of cancer. Enroll today!