Tag Archive for: cancer side effects

How Treatment Side Effects Impact Mental Health and Decision-Making

Cancer is a long, hard road that no one wants to travel down. When it strikes you, though, being strong is no longer an option, but a necessity. You are probably prepared for the physical impacts of this life changing diagnosis, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

What you might not expect, though, are the impacts that your treatment can have on your mental health and decision-making.

Depression and Anxiety

If you are going through chemo, you probably braced yourself for the nausea and fatigue that you knew would accompany your treatment. Once you were in the midst of it, however, you may have found that the mental and emotional impacts of chemo treatments are as great as the physical ones, if not greater.

It’s not difficult to understand why. The treatments themselves are inherently stressful, but what you may find even more distressing is how the treatments disrupt your daily life. These disruptions often occur not only on infusion day, but also on the days leading up to and following treatment.

In other words, you might quickly begin to feel as if your entire life is revolving around your chemotherapy, whether you are preparing for your infusion or recovering from it. You may mourn the loss of your daily routine. Your fatigue may interfere with your ability to work, take care of your home, or simply do the things you enjoy. All this can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.

The good news, however, is that there are things you can do to manage your emotions and nurture your mental health, even in this challenging time. This begins, above all, with giving yourself permission to feel what you need to feel, to grieve when you need to grieve, or to be angry when you need to be angry.

At the same time, getting stuck in these dark emotions isn’t good for your physical or mental health. That’s why it’s essential to track how you are feeling and to know when and how to seek help when you need it.

Daily journaling can help you process your emotions, while leaning on your support group can provide the comfort and the perspective you need to move through them.

Expecting the Unexpected

One of the most challenging aspects of the cancer journey from a mental health perspective is how unpredictable it can be. It’s difficult to prepare for a challenge, after all, if you don’t know what’s coming.

For example, vision problems are a common but often unexpected side effect of cancer treatment. Many patients experience dry eyes, eye pain, and blurriness as a result of their treatment. This can further increase emotional distress not only because such visual impacts can compromise your daily functioning but also because vision and mental health, research is increasingly showing, are deeply interconnected. Indeed, the brain’s visual processing centers lie primarily in its deepest structures, many of which are also responsible for emotion and mood.

Treatment and Decision-Making

When you are in the fight of your life, and you are truly feeling all the physical and emotional impacts of that fight, it’s not only your mental health that may be undermined; you may find it difficult to make rational decisions. When you are worried, fatigued, and sick, your brain simply cannot process information as efficiently or well.

You might find yourself, for instance, making rash and unwise decisions, or you may find yourself unable to make any decision at all. This is why it is important to surround yourself both with friends and family and with healthcare providers you trust.

Such a support network can help guide you through choices that you may be unable to make on your own when the treatment side effects have sapped your energy, stolen your focus, and deflated your mood.

Indeed, because your support network is so important when you’re undergoing treatment, you may find yourself needing to make some major decisions even before your treatment journey begins. For example, if you live in an isolated, rural area, you may determine that it is best for your physical and mental health to relocate, at least temporarily, to the city.

Living in the city can ensure that you have consistent and easy access to your entire healthcare team, including mental healthcare providers. Not only can this make treatment easier when you’re feeling especially tired or unwell, but such proximity to your trusted team can enable you to feel more confident and comfortable with your care, mitigating some of the stress you feel and enhancing your ability to make sound decisions.

The Takeaway

The cancer journey is a scary one, but it does not have to lead to despair. The key is learning how the journey, including your treatment, can impact your mental health and your decision-making. Armed with such knowledge, you can take the steps you need to nurture your mental and emotional well-being even as you fight to recover your physical health.

Moods of Oral Cancer…A Patient’s Journey

Real patient experiences shared privately at www.TreatmentDiaries.com.  Read more, share if you like or join in the conversation.  Making sure you feel less alone navigating a diagnosis is important.  Connecting you to those who can relate and provide support is what we do.


I’ve been even deeper in dissociation than usual lately. Normally, I have a habit of walking through life with a general sense of disconnection, forgetting most events, even some important ones. But lately–within the past few days I think–things have been a bit worse. I’m often feeling dizzy, having trouble translating talking into words, hearing everyday noises “echoing,” having a hard time making myself communicate with proper human body language and tone of voice, etc. I also feel even more dreamlike and can’t get my eyes to focus on anything for long. Pretty sure my depression linked to a life of living with oral cancer has something to do with it all, especially because I often feel like I lack the energy to act normally.

I think I remember feeling angry and invisible earlier today, but I can’t remember exactly why. I’m not sure if I want to remember. I can’t stand the idea of having to be reminded of recent events I should remember, but I don’t know if I could handle knowing them. It just might be too much.

I got the usual restlessness and anxiety when I got home today. It felt like I needed something to happen–and fast–though I couldn’t work up the courage to talk to my “friends.” And I don’t know why I have to put “friends” in parentheses. These people haven’t done anything wrong, and I’ve known them for years. I think I’m just so scared to get close to them and become my idea of their friend. I want to be able to run away when I start to care about what they think too much, and that’s not what people usually consider as friendship. “Friend” means commitment. “Friend” means deep caring and consideration. Those are things I can’t really handle right now, especially because of how often I slip up and how devastated I get when I do feel like I slip up. Those two things don’t mix well.

I guess I also don’t think they consider me as a “friend.” And my brain seems to think that being the only one in a relationship that considers the other person as a friend is annoying. I already feel so annoying and I blame my cancer diagnosis most for the loss of friends in my life.

I probably just overthink the meaning of friendship. After all, I’ve been told that several times. Even so, I’m still scared of intimacy and commitment and what people think, so the idea of friendship feels really overwhelming. I’m already overwhelmed enough.

Anyway, since I felt the need for something exciting/different to happen, I ended up playing a game with those people. The idea was scary, though, but I couldn’t think of another option, so I ended up taking Xanax before doing so. I think it helped a little, though the only person I had the courage to call was my partner (basically my safe person). I ended up feeling doomed about something that happened that night, though I can’t really remember what it was. Of course, the emotions I felt were expressed as anger at and avoidance of my partner, meaning he had to put up with even more drama. (He has to deal with this at least once a day…) Eventually, thanks to his help, I calmed down some. Really wish he didn’t have to be the one dealing with this every time, though.

Later that night, I think we messed around, and I was able to relax. I even felt like I was snapping out of that disassociation feeling a little – I truly don’t want to associate myself or my life with cancer, but I do. I want to be able to laugh and joke around at the end, but I’m slowly “disconnecting “more and more as time goes by, though. Xanax seems to do that sometimes. I’ll calm down some, but then I remember I have cancer and my life is not the same.  I’m pretty sure I got really emotional over at least one small thing today, though I can’t remember what it was. Cancer sucks – especially my cancer.

Mental Health & Cancer

Anxiety, fear and depression are commonly associated with life-changing events – especially cancer. People with cancer may find the physical, emotional and social side effects of the disease to be stressful. This stress may result from changes in body image, changes in family or work roles and physical symptoms due to treatment. Family members and caregivers often feel these same stressors, as they fear the loss of a loved one. They may feel angry because someone they love has cancer, frustrated that they “can’t do enough,” or stressed because they have to take on more at home. So many of these feelings are completely normal, but what is typical and when may outside help be needed?

According to The American Cancer Society, signs that the patient or a loved one may need help are the following:

  • Suicidal thoughts (or thoughts of hurting himself or herself)
  • Unable to eat or sleep
  • Lacks interest in usual activities for many days
  • Is unable to find pleasure in things they’ve enjoyed in the past
  • Has emotions that interfere with daily activities and last more than a few days
  • Is confused
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Is sweating more than usual
  • Is very restless
  • Has new or unusual symptoms that cause concern

If you or a loved one have experienced one or more of the above symptoms, there are many options for help.

Speak with your cancer team

If you find any of the above symptoms to be true, one of the first steps may be talking with your cancer team. Your team should be able to answer any questions, talk about your concerns, and, if needed, refer you to a mental health professional. Anxiety occasionally stems from the fear of uncertainty from treatment or medication side effects, so knowing what to expect may be the first step in coping.

Seek support

Once you have spoken with your cancer team and support system to determine a treatment plan, put it into action! Any of the below activities may supplement the treatment prescribed by your doctor in making both you and your loved ones feel less alone and anxious during this difficult time:

Get moving

Exercise has been proven to improve individuals’ quality of life and physical functionality. Though rest and relaxation are crucial to maintaining a healthy mind and body, regular exercise may help maintain and even improve your health. Exercise may help during treatment by improving balance and physical abilities, lowering the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, and lessen nausea. Even more importantly than physical health, exercise may improve patients’ self-esteem, mental health and quality of life.

Every individuals’ physical needs and potential are different, so it is important to speak with your doctor about what exercises are best for you. Because the stage and treatment plan for cancer patients differ, so may each patients’ stamina and strength. Staying as active and fit as possible is essential to maintaining physical well-being during treatment, so tailoring an exercise program that fits your ability and preference is essential.


Resources:

cancer.org

cancer.gov