Waters also says that the general push to maintain optimism will prevent women from sharing their experience with people outside the
family unit. “People often say, in a simplistic way, ‘Just be positive.’ So if I share that I’m struggling or that I’m afraid of dying, and you want me to maintain optimism, that shuts down the conversation,” she says.
4. Financial Strain
In many cases, women also manage family finances. Gynaecological cancers, which are among the most expensive cancers to treat, drain bank accounts and cause financial uncertainty and additional stress.
According to NPR, in 2013, 25% of cancer patients chose not to fill a prescription due to cost, and one in eight cancer patients rejected treatment for financial reasons. Additionally, mental health counselling can be viewed as a luxury expense, and therefore is not often
5. Facing Mortality
Research says that women’s main concerns during cancer treatment are how their family is being affected and how their family may be
affected when they are gone. “My research shows that even women with earlier-stage cancers that are still curable and treatable are facing
their own mortality in ways they never have before,” Waters says.
And while hospice counsellors are available for those with late-stage cancers and can help attend to the needs of children, women with earlier-stage cancers are left to manage the process on their own. For that reason, the risk of suicide for those who experience cancer is twice that of the general population.
6. Cancer-Related Pain, Fatigue and Sleep-Disturbance
“If I get a bump or bruise soreness in my hip, I think, ‘Gosh, what did I hit?,’” says Waters. “But if you’ve had cancer, you think, ‘Oh my gosh, is
it coming back?’” Cancer survivors suffer from pain that if left uncontrolled, can contribute to depression and substance abuse
disorders. Fear of cancer recurrence (FCR) can cause cancer-related fatigue and sleep disturbance, which can make women
feel disconnected from their families and friends.
Cancer-related fatigue is not often a result of lack of sleep and is more often cured with light exercise over rest. Only a mental-health
counselor trained to work with cancer patients would have all the information needed to truly help.
7. Support Groups Aren’t for Everyone
Support groups can be wonderful, but they often create additional mental health stressors for participants. Not every person responds
positively to support groups. It is an individual choice. “If you have supportive friends and family, and you go to a group where
people talk about how their friends and family have let them down, it can be distressing,” Waters explains.
“In addition, as the illnesses of members of the group progress, you can experience grief from the loss of those who were supportive to you, and you can experience survivor’s guilt.”
To the contrary, if a woman with cancer were seeing her own therapist, the sessions would be focused on addressing the issues and problems
specific to her. This would again, encourage personal growth with a focus on self to address the complicated issues surrounding her cancer.
Waters’ long-term goal is to develop a non-profit cancer counselling fund so those with cancer can receive counselling at no cost. Because
those with cancer report that their mental health needs are often unaddressed during their treatment, she also hopes to train mental
health counsellors specifically to work with people with cancer and oncology providers to consider the mental health aspects of cancer.
In the meantime, however, if you believe you or your loved one with cancer may need professional assistance navigating the mental health
challenges of cancer, reach out to a trained counsellor or therapist. They are here to help. They are able to help each individual draw on personal
strengths and support systems and can give life perspective to guide you or your family during this difficult and challenging time. The time to
focus on yourself and your health is now.
Your primary care provider can provide a referral to a private counsellor or community mental health agency for counselling tailored to your
Are you ready for mental health counselling to beat stress and anxiety in reproductive cancer?
Written by: Dr Kristin Davin