Psychological effects of cancer

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Anyone who has ever spent the day in an oncology ward knows all too well what the inside world of cancer is all about. It’s about the noises the machines make as the chemo drip is delivered to a patient. It’s about the pain that radiates throughout their body. It’s about the nausea that the meds bring on, and the weight loss that occurs as a side effect of that. When we think about cancer, the naïve and inexperienced mind often resorts to images of patients who’ve lost their hair who look pale and frail. We think of physical attributes that these people lose to cancer; rarely do we let out imaginations travel to the other side of cancer where it takes over the person’s life and leaves them feeling turned inside out emotionally.


How does cancer make someone feel? How we feel goes far beyond nausea and fatigue. What about depression, anxiety, trauma, and rage? Cancer can take us there. It is often said that people who are diagnosed with potentially terminal illnesses will start progressing through the seven stages of grief before they’ve even been diagnosed as terminal. In other words, they start mourning the loss of the life they were used to having, and some may even start to prepare themselves to die.


Depression affects as many as 25 percent of people with cancer. It pulls people into dark spaces that they feel too tired and worn out to crawl out of. They struggle to cope with their everyday lives. When their whole day involves just trying to make it through while recovery from yesterday’s chemotherapy session, they often don’t see the point in getting out of bed. While it might seem like it is the situation that has brought on the depression, there is also potential for this kind of mental health disorder to take shape as a result of a depletion of hormones caused by drugs like Lupron that many cancer treatment regimens require.


Certainly, just the word cancer brings with it an insurmountable amount of fear. Men and women of all ages, and even children, worry that they will succumb to the disease. Will cancer be the last thing they do with their lives? What will happen to their family in the wake of that? What about the financial cost of battling this illness? How will they get through it and still maintain a quality life? These kinds of incessant worries are exactly what causes anxiety to develop in cancer sufferers. They become so fixated on making sure everything is going to be okay, and the fear of the unknown is just too difficult to cope with.


Fortunately, the majority of people who are ever diagnosed with cancer end up beating it. Despite that, rates of depression and posttraumatic stress in these individuals continues to mount. Treatment for these conditions varies from behavioral therapies to medications. PTSD is a real and severe concern for people with cancer and many of them may find success with equine therapy.

Cite this page: Danielle Bosley, "Psychological effects of cancer," in, January 30, 2017, (accessed October 4, 2022).