Nurturing Your Mental & Emotional Health: A Continuous Journey

Contributed by: Tan Hui Ping

As the physical battles of cancer wane, the journey of mental and emotional recovery continues in a different light.

HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE A CANCER SURVIVOR? Someone still undergoing treatment? Or someone who just completed treatment? Or perhaps someone in and beyond remission? Ms Tan Hui Ping, Principal Counsellor, Parkway Cancer Centre, encourages all patients to see themselves as cancer survivors, so long as they are living with, through and beyond cancer.

While physical well-being naturally remains at the forefront for cancer survivors, Ms Tan emphasises the parallel significance of mental and emotional wellness. This holistic approach may seem unexpected to some, especially when treatment is completed. “While the conclusion of cancer treatment is a hopeful milestone, it can also usher in unexpected stresses,” observes Ms Tan.

UNDERSTANDING AND NAVIGATING POST-TREATMENT EMOTIONS

Ms Tan adds that some people might think that survivors are least likely to face mental and emotional health issues after treatment is completed. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. She explains that life after cancer treatment can present its own set of challenges. Ms Tan sheds light on the emotions often experienced by survivors post-treatment and offers guidance on navigating them:

EMOTIONPOSSIBLE CAUSESSUGGESTED COPING STRATEGIES
AnxietyWorries of cancer recurrence, aches and pains, or uncertainties about life post-treatment, including returning to work.
  • Acknowledge your worries and fears. Talk to someone or express them non-verbally, through art or journalling, as this will help process what is going on within you.
  • Focus on what you can control. Accept that there will be differences pre- and post-illness, and modify your expectations accordingly.
  • Practise realistic reminders. Aches and pains do not necessarily mean that your cancer is back. Remind yourself that you will deal with any eventuality when it comes.
  • Follow up with your appointments. Take an active role in your well-being by going for your appointments, and bring someone along for more emotional support.
SadnessMissing the routine and support of your healthcare provider, grieving multiple losses (e.g. time dedicated to treatment or a planned future), or reflecting on changes in your life since diagnosis.
  • Be kind to yourself. It is normal to feel sad as you adjust to changes. Be less critical and more patient with yourself.
  • Practise gratitude. Some people find that their diagnosis actually helps them appreciate the little things in life. This positivity can help keep sadness at bay.
  • Focus on the present. Free your mind from the past and unforeseeable future. Anchor yourself in the present moment.
LonelinessFeeling disconnected from loved ones, as they cannot understand why you have not returned to your 'old self' after treatment.
  • Communicate openly. Share with your loved ones about what is going on within you and how you are feeling.
  • Join a support group. Connect with others who have been through similar experiences.
  • Find comfort in your belief system. If you adhere to a faith, turn to it for support.
AngerFrustration over post-treatment changes and lingering side effects, or envying others’ health.
  • Identify underlying emotions. Anger is often easier to express than fear or sadness, but it often masks true emotions.
  • Express anger in healthier ways. Describe your feelings rather than simply displaying them. Just saying the words “I am angry” can be a relief.
StressOverwhelming post-treatment to-do list, or unmet expectations from friends, family and co-workers.
  • Prioritise tasks. You do not have to sort everything out at once. Allow yourself to be flexible and complete them over a span of time.
  • Relax with activities that calm your mind. Give yourself the space to wind down.
  • Schedule ‘mini breaks’ throughout the day. Use this time to step away from the source of stress. Do something that de-stresses you.

Caring for caregivers

As a caregiver, caring for your loved ones with cancer can at times be overwhelming. It is therefore important for you to be in good shape in order to be a consistent, caring and efficient caregiver. Hence, while you support the well-being of your loved ones, it is also crucial for you to prioritise your own mental health. Remember, your well-being matters too.

Here are some ways to take care of yourself:

Rotate Caregiving Duties

Get someone else to be a secondary caregiver so that you can have some time away from your duties. Accept offers of help from others or arrange for short-term respite care for your loved ones.

Connect With Other Caregivers

Join a support group to exchange stories and tips so that you can provide and enjoy mutual encouragement. You can also take part in caregiving workshops to learn new skills, or attend psycho-educational programmes to develop emotional coping techniques and resilience.

Seek Professional Help When You Need to

If you feel so overwhelmed that it affects your daily routines at work, school, home, or in your relationships, do consider seeking help from a mental health professional such as a counsellor.

The average caregiver in Singapore spends 6.7 hours a day on caregiving.

The average caregiver is between the ages of 45 and 60, female, married and holding down a full-time job.

Over 40% of caregivers are at risk of depression.

The depression risk for caregivers increases when there is a lack of practical assistance and emotional support from family and friends.

POSTED IN Caregiving, Life after Cancer, Palliative Care, Psychological Health
TAGS cancer caregiver, cancer quality of life, cancer relapse, cancer survivorship, cancer treatments, follow up care, managing emotions, stress and cancer
PUBLISHED 01 DECEMBER 2023