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Helping Patients Cope With Cancer: A Counselor's Perspective - Articles Surfing
Each year millions of Americans are diagnosed with cancer. Nearly 500,000 of those will be diagnosed with breast or prostate cancer. Many of our patients will have, or have had cancer. It is important to understand the range of emotions, causes of distress and interventions available to help them.
There are many things that affect how a patient adjusts to cancer. It is difficult to predict how a person will cope. The following factors influence how a patient adjusts to cancer: The type of cancer, cancer stage, and chance of recovery.
Adjusting to a diagnosis of cancer is an ongoing process in which the patient learns to cope with emotional distress, solve cancer-related problems, and gain control over cancer-related life events. To add to the stress, patients are faced with many challenges that change as the disease and its treatment change. There are, however, certain predictable times when a patient is more likely to experience significant crisis. These include hearing the diagnosis, receiving treatment, completing treatment, hearing that the cancer is in remission, hearing that the cancer has come back, and becoming a cancer survivor. Each of these events involves specific coping tasks, questions about life and death, and common emotional challenges.
Patients are better able to adjust to a cancer diagnosis if they are able to continue fulfilling normal responsibilities, cope with emotional distress, and stay actively involved in activities that are meaningful and important to them. In counseling, patients can learn to develop coping strategies to change problem situations, manage emotional distress, and understand what impact cancer may have on his or her life. Patients who adjust well are usually committed to recovery and actively involved in coping with cancer.
Distress can occur when a person feels that he or she does not have the resources to manage or control the cancer. Patients who have the same diagnosis and are undergoing the same treatment may have very different experiences and ways of expressing distress. Anxiety and depression are common among patients with cancer. It is important, however, to ferret out whether the anxiety and depression are solely emotionally based or are caused/made worse by insomnia, fatigue, pain or side effects of medication.
Patients may benefit from other treatment options for anxiety, including: psychotherapy, group therapy, family therapy, participating in self-help groups, hypnosis, and relaxation techniques such as guided imagery, or biofeedback. Medications may be used alone or in combination with these techniques. It is important not to avoid anxiety-relieving medications for fear of becoming addicted. A side benefit of many of the antianxiety medications is that they cause muscle relaxation which can often ease some of the aches and pains patients are experiencing.
People diagnosed with cancer will react to these issues in different ways and may not experience serious distress. It is also important to remember that patients and their family members or caregivers need to be evaluated for depression throughout their treatment. Children are also affected when a parent with cancer develops depression, and often develop emotional and behavioral problems.
There are many misconceptions about cancer and how people cope with it, such as the following:
Sadness and grief are normal reactions to the crises faced during cancer, and will be experienced at times by all people. Because sadness is common, it is important to distinguish between normal levels of sadness and depression. An important part of cancer care is the recognition of depression that needs to be treated. This is depression that causes a person to lose pleasure in most activities more often than not for at least two weeks and can be accompanied by sleep and appetite changes, suicidal thoughts, confusion and difficulty concentrating. Counselors with a knowledge of cancer and cancer treatment can help people deal with their depression. Specific goals of these therapies include the following:
When the depression or anxiety is being made worse by symptoms or medication, the counselor can advocate for the client, help the client communicate with his/her physician and educate the client about possible interventions.
Fatigue can become a very important issue in the life of a person with cancer. It may affect the person's self-esteem, his or her daily activities and relationships with others, and whether he or she continues treatment. Some of these treatments may include adjusting the dosages of pain medications, administering red blood cell transfusions or blood cell growth factors, diet supplementation with iron and vitamins, use of antidepressants or stimulants, exercise, and helping the patient identify a reasonable schedule so as not to tire too quickly.
Since fatigue is the most common symptom in people receiving outpatient chemotherapy, patients should learn ways to manage the fatigue. According to the American Cancer Society, patients should be taught the following:
Physical Interventions include:
Thinking and behavior interventions give patients a sense of control and help them develop coping skills to deal with the disease and its symptoms. Beginning these interventions early in the course of treatment is useful so that patients can learn and practice the skills while they have enough strength and energy.
Thinking and Behavioral interventions include:
As a clinician working with a cancer patient, there are many things you can do to aid him/her in leading the highest quality of life. It is important to remember that patients with cancer who are seeking counseling are often in crisis, so write down suggestions or interventions they are to try at home.
Copyright © 1995 - Photius Coutsoukis (All Rights Reserved).
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