October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Read detailed information about breast cancer-associated mental health issues and how to deal with such patients.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States overall; about 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 13%) will develop invasive breast cancer throughout their lifetime.
Also, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Filipino and Hispanic women in the United States, and for women, breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer.
Breast Cancer Diagnosis Effects on a Woman’s Brain
Although almost 80% of biopsied breast lumps turn mild, anxiety is high during diagnosis.
As expected, those individuals who receive news that their tumours are not harmful — experience lower levels of distress than those who receive a cancer diagnosis.
The breast cancer diagnosis precipitates an existential crisis in women. Research has proven that it takes approximately 100 days for a woman to change her view of herself as a healthy person to a picture of herself with a severe illness.
And in some cases, upon learning of the diagnosis — women become more depressed, tense, angry, tired, and confused. Many individuals report that receiving the cancer diagnosis was the most stressful part of the entire process.
Anxiety may escalate as women imagine the possible treatments they will undergo and the illness’s impact on their daily lives.
One study on breast cancer patients shows that a large percentage was classified as depressed (38.2%) and anxious (32.2%). And the crucial components that were associated were age, marital status, educational level, stage of cancer from univariate analyses and place of residence, religion, symptoms burden from multivariate analysis (for depression and anxiety).
Some women also enter a state of denial by having feelings of depersonalization (i.e., they watch themselves as if from a distance). Many women no more trust life or their bodies and always keep on wondering, “How could my body betray me like this?”
Six Deep Mental Injuries, Women with Breast Cancer Face
Unknown people are peering and poking at their naked breasts, sitting in paper gowns, purple lines drawn on their bodies that indicate areas for radiation therapy, and cold steel tables are the things that women with breast cancer come to know all too well.
Too much technological intervention, coupled with pressures on physicians to provide cost-effective service.
All this leads to more rushed and less personalized treatment, resulting in many women with breast cancer feeling like they are being treated as objects.
And, here arise the need for — ‘psychosocial assessment.’
The term ‘psychosocial assessment’ means evaluating an individual patient’s mental health, emotional health, ability to cope in a community, and how they perceive their life after a terminal illness diagnosis.
Once you start to understand the ways and factors of psychosocial assessment, you can cope with the patient more emphatically.
In short: it’s this assessment is a comprehensive psychological assessment that includes gathering information from various sources (primarily by talking to the patient herself), being knowledgeable about her disease and its treatments, and being sensitive towards her mental trauma.
Let us discuss six different target areas that family members must address in this assessment, while they deal with a breast cancer patient.
1. Effects of Age
Women in their 40s’ have fewer physical concerns about their femininity than women in their 30s’.
Younger women are more likely to express concerns related to physical affection, sexual relations, family interactions, and intimacy than are older women. Older women generally have an easier time coping than do younger women.
Whereas young females are more likely to voice fears about getting too close to their husbands- touching and cuddling may be scary, and sex may seem out of the question.
Some young women may reject themselves altogether and be fearful that their partners will leave them.
2. Loss and Body Image Feelings
Mastectomy or breast reconstruction may emerge on fear of rejection from society in female patients.
The diagnosis will affect a woman’s feelings about her body and her level of sexual desire, sexual activity, and sexual satisfaction.
The course of treatment — loss of a body part is never easy for any person, especially when the body part has been sexualized and glorified during all her years of existence.
3. Sexual Dissatisfaction
Breast cancer chemotherapy enables female patients to experience sexual disability and dissatisfaction all way along.
Aside from the fatigue, hair loss, and weight gain that make many women feel unattractive, the drugs themselves are likely to cause vaginal dryness and make sexual intercourse quite painful.
Although, not all women suffer losses in self-esteem, body image, or sexual functioning due to mastectomy. Women who have shown their partners their scars shortly after the operation are more likely to resume normal sexual functioning soon after surgery.
4. Biological Factors
Many physical symptoms can be manifestations of cancer disease. For example, fatigue may be attributed to depression or breathlessness to anxiety; sexual dissatisfaction may be attributed to reactions to treatment therapy (chemo) or mastectomy.
Like psychosocial factors affect physical health; for example, when a person is stressed, their anxiety increases, blood vessels constrict, and blood pressure rises.
Similarly, physical symptoms can affect psychological well-being.
Biological factors like pain, hair loss, mastectomy, weight gain, fatigue, nausea, chemo, and other cancer symptoms, occur; their brains also suffer.
5. Cognitive Factors
Cognitive disability or being more misinformed about her illness makes her cancer a threat rather than a challenge. As a result, the more distressed she will be getting prone to mental health conditions.
The more educated and intelligent females, the more capable they are of dealing with this terminal illness.
If you think the female patient’s struggles with factual knowledge about their condition, educate them by being their guiding light.
6. Terminal Cancer and Coping Mechanism
Honestly, there is no straight answer to — “How to cope with Terminal Breast Cancer?” Because there is no one way to cope with it.
It is a very subjective experience. — Therefore, every patient’s journey is unique. Nobody can solve this problem for a breast cancer patient.
If you feel the female patient is completely lost and trying to give up hope too early, this signifies her beliefs and coping mechanism is deeply shaken due to the illness.
The best way to help such people is, teach them “avoidance coping,” i.e., denying or avoiding the illness and its ramifications.
If the patient constantly asks, “What if?” or “Why me?”; then it’s not the right way to cope with this situation. Acceptance of truth might be difficult, but nobody can change it, so please help them accept it.
Start living in the moment, right in the present. Eat well, stay committed to fitness, work daily, talk to your family, spend time with loved ones, and make the most of what you have in your hands.
Make them believe that everything will be taken care of after they are gone, and express your unconditional love to them.
5 Steps To Early Detect Breast Cancer
The Bottom Line
Assessing these six different factors will help the patient’s family members become more empathetic, sensitive, and supportive towards them as survivors and fighters.
Also, society’s more social support and acceptance bring confidence in the patient over time, enabling her to heal better and faster.