The Mental Health of Cancer Patients and Families

In Breast Cancer, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

Like just about everyone else, I have spent the last month or so paying particular attention to the news about all things pertaining to the coronavirus. I have listened and observed the words and behaviors of people and communities everywhere. And the more that I listen and watch, the more that I realize that despite our personal circumstances, we can improve our own situation by focusing more time and effort on helping others. But, let me explain.

“This is a time for all of us to come together and not let anything divide us or influence our abilities to be creative in the ways that we help and support each other, especially in our cancer communities.”Barbara Jacoby

I realize that everywhere I turn, there are fundraisers being held to assist people with feeding and helping others on every level but for many of us, we just don’t have the financial resources to give to others when we might be struggling to pay our own bills. As we watch our own fears expand on all fronts, it seems to become harder and harder to find any ways to think or do something positive for ourselves, let alone for someone else. But, as always, turning to those in my cancer communities has helped me to find ways that I can help and support them at this time without even realizing that I have done so and I am so grateful for having these wonderful people in my life.

For example, I am not one who enjoys talking on the phone but I spent more than an hour yesterday chatting with a 95-year-old woman who was going through cancer treatment at the same time that I was and who now is dealing with COPD that was enhanced by the radiation treatment that she received at that time. She lives alone and everyone is distancing themselves from her because of her age and her compromised immunity system and she admitted that she just doesn’t have any motivation to do anything at this time but climb into bed and sleep. However, at the end of our conversation, she told me that she felt so much better for having talked with me and all but begged me to call her again soon. And it was in that moment that I realized that her social isolation was having such a detrimental effect on her mental well-being and that all she really needed was to talk to someone in order to make her day.

I have also been in touch with another young lady who is in the midst of chemotherapy treatments that she is continuing to receive at this time. For her, she has a certain relief because of social distancing because she has a compromised immune system that others might not have otherwise noted and/or respected if it was not for such current awareness. And since she is a teacher and has been feeling really badly about not being with her students on a daily basis, knowing that she can’t be with them because of the social distancing required now has eased her stress at this most important time so that she can focus on her own recovery instead.

I have two other friends who live alone and are working from home. For them, although they are continuing to interact with others in order to continue their business without interruption, they are seriously missing that social interaction that takes place in the workplace. So, for them, a telephone call is almost serving as a lifeline and their mental health and to be able to share on Facetime with family and friends has helped them so much more than one could imagine.

I also know that some advanced cancer patients are extremely concerned that if they contract the virus that they may face a problem if there is a shortage of ventilators in being de-selected for that treatment in favor of someone who does not have such an underlying condition. However, to stress over something that may not even become the case is so detrimental to a person’s health as we all know. And if such a situation should arise, to be forewarned is to be forearmed so by immediately speaking up or having someone on your team threaten to publicly share such a discriminating practice with the media, etc., you can bet that every effort would immediately be made to provide that treatment to the cancer patient.

This is a time for all of us to come together and not let anything divide us or influence our abilities to be creative in the ways that we help and support each other, especially in our cancer communities. Everyone knows someone in the cancer community and if we each adopt at least one person and/or their families to help as we can, the difference to the mental well-being for everyone will be immeasurable. A phone call or a care package left at a doorstep with a note to let someone know that someone cares about them is everything. Maybe some groceries or a pickup at the local pharmacy of the medications that a patient needs is invaluable. And even, if affordable, the ordering of a meal from a local restaurant for delivery not only helps the patient and/or family but also the local businesses in your community. And while you know how much your caring is appreciated by the recipients, know that the feeling that you have of loving and caring and giving to someone else in your own personal way is invaluable to you as well. We truly are all in this together.