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Managing Mental Health as a Cancer Survivor

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In early 1994 I was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer called multiple myeloma.

I underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, between my original diagnosis in early 1994 and my oncologist telling me that “we can do nothing more for you” in September of 1997.

A cancer diagnosis and years of conventional cancer therapies can do a number on your mental health- both brain damage in the form of chemo brain or brain damage in the form of mental health issues. 

This post is about living as a cancer survivor with mental health challenges. 

Though I am now in complete remission from my incurable cancer, I grapple with PTSD, fear of relapse, anxiety and much more. I’ve never been formally diagnosed with any specific mental illness but I exhibit many of the symptoms discussed in the studies linked below.

While conventional oncology may be able to stabilize your cancer, living with cancer as well as conventional cancer therapies such as chemo and radiation can damage your mental health causing:

  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Anxiety

and much more.

My point is, surviving cancer is about much more than being “cancer-free.” To put it another way, reaching complete-remission (cancer-free status) is great. However cancer survivors must be aware of possible long-term mental health issues as well. 

“Conclusion-Pooled mean prevalence of depression in cancer patients during or after treatment ranged between 8% and 24% and depended on the instruments used, type of cancer and treatment phase.”

Conventional oncology does not study the long-term and late stage side effects of FDA approved “standard-of-care” protocols. 

My experience combined with years of research has identified a number of evidence-based but non-conventional therapies shown to treat the cancer survivor’s depression, anxiety, PTSD and more.

I can attest to the efficacy of the many evidence-based, non-toxic mental health therapies because I have been doing them, practicing them all for years now. I am still easily-startled but I am happy to report that my depression, anxiety, PTSD, chemobrain, etc. have all greatly improved.

Please don’t expect your board-certified oncologist to acknowledge, much less treat, your cancer-induced mental health issues. This isn’t what conventional oncology does.

The evidence-based but non-conventional therapies that I pursue daily/weekly, are evidence-based but are not FDA approved.

Nutritional supplementation such as curcumin

Complementary therapies such as

All of these categories contain therapies shown to manage my depression, anxiety, my PTSD, etc. I am not saying that conventional therapies do not have a place in the armamentarium of mental health therapies. I am saying two things:

First and foremost, I use/pursue evidence-based, non-conventional therapies to manage my cancer survivor mental health challenges and

Secondly, I urge you to also pursue evidence-based, non-convetional therapies to manage any mental health challenges you have before you pursue conventional medications.

I’ve written about managing the mental health of the cancer survivor dozens of times over the years. These posts are all about evidence-based, non-toxic therapies. 

Scroll down the page, post a question or a comment and I will reply to you ASAP.

Thanks and hang in there,

David Emerson

  • Cancer Survivor
  • Cancer Coach
  • Director PeopleBeatingCancer

Recommended Reading

Depression and anxiety in long-term cancer survivors compared with spouses and healthy controls: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Findings: Our search returned 144 results, 43 were included in the main analysis: for comparisons with healthy controls, 16 assessed depression and ten assessed anxiety; of the comparisons with spouses, 12 assessed depression and five assessed anxiety…

The prevalence of depression was 11·6%  in the pooled sample of 51 381 cancer survivors and 10·2% in 217 630 healthy controls. The prevalence of anxiety was 17·9%  in 48 964 cancer survivors and 13·9% in 226 467 healthy controls…”

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Cancer

Aspects of the cancer experience that might trigger PTSD include:

AYA Cancer Survivors Experience Mental Health Impact Long After Treatment

“Survivors experienced a 30% higher rate of outpatient mental-health visits compared to the control group. Most visits were linked to anxiety disorders, which supports findings from a previous study that found that survivors had a 60% higher risk of anxiety and adjustment disorders than their siblings.

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