During the winter time, I rather enjoy wearing my stocking caps. I can wear my hair curly, straight, or with some hats, I can pull a pony tail through a hole in the back. While sitting at my parent’s dining room table, preparing to leave for the trip back home after Christmas, I was wearing my stocking cap. I happened to have had my hair pulled back when I put that cap on. My sister sat down, looked at me and said, “I know you’re not, but you look like a cancer patient. Take off the cap or pull your hair down. It’s just too soon.” At that time, I did both.
When I had breast cancer, I was fortunate enough to not have to go through chemotherapy. It never dawned on me that I looked like a cancer patient. It was definitely not my intention, but I completely understand where my sister was coming from. It was still too fresh in her memory.
Having thought more about my sister and her situation, I realized that she was not alone. A number of cancer patients – current and former – have issues; triggers that can cause stress and anxiety from what they went through. Some patients have aversion to food that made them sick. Others can’t walk by a certain area of the hospital without having flashbacks. A few might have a continuous fear the doctor will call with bad news.
Many people associate Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with those military men and women who return from war, our emergency crews, or those who lived through a traumatic event like a tornado or physical abuse. However, PTSD can easily affect those who have been diagnosed with cancer. Most cancer patients are able to easily cope with the stress factors; but for some, the stress and anxiety levels are so strong that coping becomes difficult.
PTSD does not only present itself as stress and anxiety but with these symptoms:
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating
- Repeatedly reliving an event
- Continuous feelings of fear, anger, and irritability
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Unwanted thoughts that could be frightening in nature
- Difficulty feeling emotions
- Destructive behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse
- Avoiding places, people, and activities that bring back memories of your cancer
It’s normal to have some of these symptoms as a cancer patient. Symptoms can come and go, and can be different for each individual. It’s important to know that if you are feeling any of these symptoms that last longer than a month, are more severe, or you’re struggling more than you’d like to be, seek the support of your medical team. The longer your symptoms go untreated, the more severe they will become and the longer your journey to recovery will be.
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