Need to nurture mental well-being amid battle against cancer
World Cancer Day, which is celebrated on February 4, serves as a poignant reminder of the global battle against cancer and the need to address not only the physical aspects of the disease but also the often-overlooked realm of mental health.
Cancer is responsible for one in six deaths in the world. Amidst the bleak reality of the growing epidemic of cancer, there is a ray of hope that more than half of cancers can be prevented or cured through early detection and the initiation of effective treatment.
The theme for World Cancer Day this year is ‘Closing the Care Gap’. As we observe the day this year, let us not forget to ensure that we close the mental health treatment gap, associated with the battle against cancer and understand the important role that each of us could play in spreading peace, hope, and happiness in the lives of our cancer warriors.
A study conducted in Goa on the quality of life and mental health of women diagnosed with breast cancer revealed that major problems during the treatment course include fatigue and pain, as well as psychological burdens related to fear of cancer recurrence and anxiety.
This was a mixed methods study, conducted by Dr Amit Dias (Study PI), Dr Siddhartha Basuroy, and Dr Dilip Amoncar (former HOD, Dept of Surgery, GMC) and published in the Journal of Dental and Medical Sciences.
There is a need to train community outreach workers to be able to provide counselling and care during the treatment phase and follow-up period. Much more awareness about breast self-examination needs to be created to help people detect breast cancer early and have better outcomes and quality of life. One of the suggestions made by the patients with cancer was to provide transport for them on chemotherapy days as they find it very difficult to get to the health facility.
The Government of Goa is leaving no stone unturned to improve the services for people with cancer in the State. The use of newer techniques for screening, partnering with the Tata Hospital for better quality management, and building the capacity of the health and wellness centres to provide cancer care are some of the highlights of the initiatives in Goa. We all need to be aware of the signs of mental illness and implement strategies to cope with it.
SIGNS OF MENTAL ILLNESS
Cancer patients may experience a range of emotions, from fear and anxiety to sadness and anger. However, it is crucial to identify when these emotions evolve into more serious mental health concerns. Signs of mental illness in cancer patients include persistent feelings of hopelessness, extreme changes in appetite or sleep patterns, withdrawal from social activities, and a prolonged sense of despair and suicidal ideation.
COPING STRATEGIES FOR MENTAL HEALTH
Promote open communication: Celene, a person with cancer said that she felt good speaking to other cancer patients as she waited for the doctor in the OPD, she said she learned a lot from their coping strategies. She made new friends who kept in touch beyond the hospital and her cancer phase. Encouraging open communication between patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers is fundamental. Support groups are to be encouraged.
Use professional support: Seeking the assistance of mental health professionals, such as counsellors or psychologists, can provide valuable coping mechanisms.
Incorporating Mind-Body Practices: Incorporating mindfulness techniques, meditation, yoga, music therapy, etc, into daily routines can significantly improve mental well-being. “Prayer and faith brought me peace and helped me gather strength during the biggest struggle in my lifetime,” said Joquim, a cancer survivor.
CLOSING THE GAP
On World Cancer Day, let us acknowledge the profound interconnection between physical health and mental well-being. By recognizing the signs of mental illness, implementing coping strategies, and sharing stories of resilience, we can contribute to a more holistic and compassionate approach to cancer care and bridge the gap in cancer care.
[Dr Amit Dias, MD, assistant professor at the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at GMC hospital, has been involved with the CanSurvive movement initiated by Caritas Goa. He has been involved with mental health research in Goa for over two decades.]