Effects of cancer
The effects of cancer are not limited to the body or a single organ, respectively – rather, it affects the whole person and their general sense of well-being. Cancer patients often feel physically weak and fatigued. They are more prone to suffer from so-called “trivial infections” such as colds, which they cannot overcome as quickly as a healthy person.
This is due to the fact that cancer patients suffer from a weakened immune system that can no longer sufficiently perform its tasks, thereby severely affecting the general condition. The effects on general well-being are not limited to the physical plane, but also have a mental, spiritual, and social dimension, as all of these interact closely.
Very often, cancer patients report that after receiving their diagnosis, their “world collapsed” and they “fell into a black hole”. At this point, many questions may arise simultanously: How far has the cancer progressed? Are there metastases already? What are my chances of recovery?
Unfortunately, there is no certain answer to the most important question, about the chances of success of the treatment, but only estimates based on experience and statistics. However, the chances of a cure are greater the earlier the cancer is detected and treated. Affected persons should also not hesitate to inquire until they have received sufficient answers and explanations to all their questions. Furthermore, one should not feel pressurized; rather, it is important to develop the conviction that the proposed therapies will be effective.
As the disease progresses, additional burdens on the general condition may appear. Physically, the treatment can stress a person to the limit, which in turn has a psychological effect. Cancer patients often suffer from strong mood swings between euphoria (“I’ll make it”) and resignation (“After all, I only have a few weeks to live”). If we now consider that moods, for their part, have a major influence on the physical factors of general well-being, it becomes clear that cancer is much more than just a tumor. Cancer patients need understanding and support.
Perhaps the following situation is familiar: A previously healthy friend or work colleague is suddenly told that he has cancer. You want to visit him, to show your support, but suddenly you become uncertain: Should you bring up the subject or wait for him to come up with it on his own? Should you talk about death, about pain, or should you keep the conversation on a light level and not bring up the disease at all? Everyone has this insecurity when dealing with the seriously ill, and even doctors often fail to find the right tone.
Of course, a patient immediately notices that those around him are suddenly inhibited and sometimes even avoid him because of their own insecurity. He feels excluded and left alone. Treatment can exacerbate this feeling, because a patient who loses a lot of weight and hair during chemotherapy may suffer to an even greater extent from people’s reactions to these physical changes (such as staring) than from the already severe physical side-effects of the treatment.
Both the physical and psychological stress of cancer weakens a person’s general condition without the carcinoma being directly responsible. Everyone knows that illnesses are generally better dealt with when one is “mentally stable.” Unfortunately, cancer in particular can throw even an otherwise very balanced person out of mental equilibrium, as the disease often requires radical life changes.
The field of psycho-oncology deals with the impact cancer may have on one’s life. It offers patients and their relatives targeted support in coping with the new life situation. It is also important to find a therapist you trust. But every patient will have to decide for themselves what distinguishes a “good doctor” and the right therapies.
Social and mental health
Every year, tens of thousands of people in Germany have to leave the workforce due to cancer. Therefore, cancer is also a social problem. This points to another dimension of general well-being: the social one. Cancer patients tend to withdraw from other people. Then again, we live in a society of the healthy, in which there is less and less room for the sick. This makes it difficult for those affected to maintain social relationships and the essential feeling of being valued by those around them. If this feeling is suddenly lost due to cancer, the psychological basis for coping with the disease can be lost. However, those who have a trusting relationship with their social peers or their employer may eventually assess if and when an open word about the illness may be appropriate.
Intellectual engagement and devoting oneself to topics of one’s interest is another important part of life. While confined to the hospital bed, a patient with a broken leg may use her time to read a lot, for example, Cancer patients though, on the other hand, often report severe concentration problems and a feeling of being mentally drained, unable to process information and to perform intellectually. This way, cancer affects the mental dimension of general well-being as well.
It is necessary not only to work on eliminating the tumour, but also to strengthen the general condition. This aspect is crucial for a successful cancer treatment. If, apart from the carcinoma, the patient is physically in a good condition, mentally balanced and active, the prospects are far better. This is where holistic or integrative cancer treatment starts.
There are many ways to support a patient. Sometimes it is enough to be mindful of frequently recharging one’s own batteries so that everyday life will not be dominated by the illness. The mood can often be brightened by small pleasures. Anything that can be enjoyed without impairing one’s health is allowed!
For some people, it helps to get comprehensive information. Knowledge about one’s own disease may dispel fears and empower informed decisions. Self-help groups offer the opportunity to exchange experiences with others in a similar situation and to learn how to cope with everyday challenges.
Many people benefit from relaxation techniques in order to better deal with particularly stressful situations. Courses or therapies provide a safe space for processing negative and depressing thoughts or to discover and access one’s creativity.
Psychosocial counselling and social services at the hospital or cancer counselling centres can also be a valuable support.