Social & Emotional Impacts of Cancer
In addition to the physical effects of cancer, cancer survivors may experience psychological, emotional and spiritual impacts. Many of these issues affect quality of life and can show up many years after treatment. Here are some of the most common issues that cancer survivors may deal with:
Fear of Recurrence
Many cancer survivors live in fear that their cancer will come back, sometimes a milestone such as the anniversary of a cancer diagnosis or the completion of treatment may trigger these feelings. Fear is not a bad thing if it motivates you to discuss health changes with your doctor, however, it can cause unnecessary worry. Know your body and be aware of what any changes that occur which could be serious issue.
Grief is the natural result of loss. With a cancer diagnosis, losses may include your health, physical independence, sex drive and fertility. In order to move past your grief, it's important to let yourself experience all of these feelings. Support groups and counseling can help you work through these issues. You will find that you are not alone, there are others going through the similar things that you are.
Studies show that 70 percent of cancer survivors experience depression at some time during their cancer journey. Depression can be hard to diagnose in cancer survivors because the symptoms are very similar to the side effects of treatment, including weight loss, fatigue, insomnia and inability to concentrate. If you have any concerns over whether or not you are experiencing depression, seek a mental health care provider who has knowledge of cancer care.
Body Image & Self-Esteem
Cancer survivors who have experienced disfigurement and loss of organs like the colon or bladder often grapple with how they relate to themselves and other people. A negative body image and low self-esteem has a major impact on quality of life. Communication is essential to retaining or regaining intimacy after cancer, you may benefit from seeking professional advice if problems arise.
Many survivors report that life takes on new meaning after cancer, and their commitment to spiritual practices or organized religion increases. Studies suggest an improvement in quality of life because spirituality provides a strong social support network. In addition it shows that coping mechanisms are improved; there is less frequency of depression and better physiological function.
Survivors often feel a sense of guilt for surviving cancer when others around them do not. It may cause them to re-evaluate their ambitions and goals in life. If you feel a sense of guilt that does not diminish over time, seek out a psychotherapist, clergy member or a support group where you can talk about your feelings.
One of the biggest issues faced by cancer survivors is how other people react to their diagnosis. It is often awkward for friends, coworkers and family members to discuss it with you. They may pretend that nothing has happened or they may even avoid you. Some people use humor in an effort to take your mind off the situation, instead of offering to discuss your issues. Overcoming communication barriers early is critical to maintaining the relationships that are important to you. You can also talk with an oncology counselor regarding this issue.
Life & the Workplace
When cancer survivors re-enter social and professional life there can be many fears: worry about being out in the world with an increased risk of infection; fatigue and lack of energy to get through a workday; and anxiety about not being able to think clearly because of "chemobrain" or memory loss. After struggling with life-and-death questions, some cancer survivors feel set apart from co-workers who haven't had the same experience. This is a good opportunity to turn to other survivors for support and friendship.
You may not want to reveal that you are undergoing cancer treatment to your employer or coworkers for fear of losing your job and health insurance or being treated differently by those around you. This creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that contributes to emotional stress.
Legal & Financial Impacts of Cancer
Few people escape the financial impact of surviving cancer. For patients who are uninsured, the cost of treatment for the first year alone can exceed $100,000. For patients with leukemia or lymphoma, that amount can reach over $200,000 in the first year.
Even if you have good health insurance, co-payments and out of pocket expenses can add up quickly. It is also important to note that some insurance companies may not pay for treatments that are considered experimental.
If you are the major wage earner, family income may decrease or even disappear once you use up your vacation and sick time. Benefits may be reduced or lost resulting in significant debt.
Financial issues may continue after treatment ends. Early retirement may cause the loss of health insurance coverage or make it difficult to find another job with health, disability and life insurance benefits.
The financial impact of cancer has not been well addressed; the following is a list of considerations that may help survivors in dealing with the economic impacts of survivorship:
The American with Disabilities Act: As a cancer survivor, know your civil rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to be denied a loan or other financial service based on your cancer history. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights has basic information to help you understand the rules and process your complaints.
Medical coverage: Look into Medicare and Medicaid.
Income alternatives: Look into Social Security disability income and supplemental security income.
Life insurance: Life insurance can be an important source of cash or the basis for a loan. Try and keep your policy if you leave your job. Investigate whether or not your life insurance company offers an accelerated death benefit with a pre-death payment. Or you may be able to sell your life insurance policy to a company for a portion of its value.
Retirement plans: This could be a source of cash and a way to fund a disability. Read your benefits book so that you fully understand your plan. If you are still employed, there may be funds available if you meet the hardship provisions.
Managing your money: Keep credit cards in your name only and make minimum payments. Consider getting credit disability or credit life insurance on your card, if available.
Other important plans: Make sure you have a durable power of attorney, a living will and a regular will with a letter of instructions.
If you have any questions or concerns about anything outlined in this section, please contact our Oncology Counselor at (561) 263-4351.