Understanding Cancer Experience Through Psycho-oncology: The multidisciplinary art and science of cancer care

When oncologists’ look into the physical aspects of a patient, psycho-oncologists help the patients and the caregivers to handle such situations in an effective manner.

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When one diagnosed with cancer it throws a lot of difficult questions in front of the patient and their families. Depending on the choices they make, it could be a life-changing experience for some people and for others, it might be a devastating one. Such situations pose a tremendous unexpected psychological burden on people without any doubt. Considering there is such a significant psychological impact and influences the treatment outcomes, many modern cancer care facilities have now migrated towards a more holistic approach by integrating psychological aspects into their treatment. When oncologists’ look into the physical aspects of a patient, psycho-oncologists (specially trained psychologists’ for cancer care) help the patients and the caregivers to handle such situations in an effective manner.

As the physical aspects of the disease, It is necessary to talk about the psychological and emotional concerns to bring a better quality of life, and most importantly to maximize the treatment outcome. Studies established that 45 per cent to 60 per cent of patients around the world are found to have psychological distress after the cancer diagnosis. In many cases, it is found that ignoring this adversely affecting the overall treatment success rate. However, the role of psychological support is quite underrated in the oncology settings in India and many parts of the world. But the times are changing!

Emotional Challenges and its Impact

When a person encounters with cancer, it naturally makes them anxious and starts developing negative thoughts associated with the disease. Feeling shocked, numb or in denial is often seen as the initial reactions towards the diagnosis. In such circumstances, many of them raise questions like ‘Why me?’ which make them more vulnerable to irrational reasonings. In other instances where the patients painfully accept the disease by themselves and lose hope before even evaluating their options. Such situations can be very tricky when patients feel that they don’t have control over themselves, and see it as a crisis without a resolution.

In most of the cases, it is only because of the false social and cultural associations of cancer which will only increase their psychological distress,

which would adversely affect their treatment that which can potentially cure them completely. Ignoring the psychological distress is often a common mistake that many people make in their cancer treatment. One needs to understand, the race is against time and if it doesn't get attended at the right time, it might get too late to make a return. The consequences of severe psychological distress affect the patient in decision making, adherence and treatment efficacy.

In fact, not only the patient but also the caregivers who are taking care of their loved ones often feel worn out and confined. Sometimes they see it as a threat and feel ill-equipped to handle or they do not have the resources to come through. Also, few patients and caregivers are at times reluctant to open up to their health-care professional about their emotional issues due to public/ social stigma, self-stigma and fear of self-exposure to a therapist. Hence, people hide their emotions and keep it a secret. This is will only impact their overall quality of life during such difficult times.

The Role of Psycho-oncology Services

The cancer diagnosis can rob a patient and his/ her loved ones’ lifestyle that has been so accustomed for years. Most of the patients and survivors often end up saying “I don't want this life, I want my normal back...”. Here is the importance of psycho-oncology services come in modern cancer care. they help patients to accept the new normal and embrace it for good. The professionals use the holistic approach to understand each patient and their unique needs. Every approach they do is scientifically proven and goal-driven. It is their duty to provide highly personalized and compassionate care to all the patients and caregivers with a goal of maximizing the treatment results.

With the help of a psycho-oncologist, the patient and their caregivers will be able to manage the distress level in various simple ways. They not only help to build their confidence level but also to identify some of the symptoms early on and assist however little that might be. Following are some of the commonly used effective practices to manage distress levels among cancer patients.

Individual Counselling: This provides a window of opportunity to the patients in expressing their inner feelings and it eventually helps them to feel better and relaxed.

Cancer Education Sessions: Majority of the patients and their caregivers are highly distressed due to lack of knowledge or misunderstanding about cancer and its treatment. The oncologists and other health-care professionals make them understand about the disease and treatment regimen, side-effects of treatment and provide advice to tackle it using the right remedies.

Social Support in a Group Setting: Patients can share their challenges, practical concerns, thoughts and feelings with other people who are experiencing similar situations and they can learn from each other. Sharing such experiences have proved to create a sense of belonging and reduces loneliness and emotional distress.

Training in Relaxation, Meditation, or Stress Management: Engaging patients in diversional therapies based on their likes and dislikes will help them occupied and stay away from negative/irrational thoughts. e.g. Doing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, guided imagery, and visualization techniques are found to be effective.

Encourage and Assist in the Right Exercises: Being physically active is also very essential to bring down emotional distress.

People are often not prepared to deal with such an emotional burden that comes with the cancer diagnosis, and it only increases with time if not dealt with carefully. It is also very positive to see how the psychological aspects of cancer are finally getting the right importance around the world. Times are changing, for good!


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