Mental Health for Cancer Survivors
- “Anne With an E” actress and cancer survivor McKeon recently shared that she sometimes wakes up sad, something other survivors can likely relate to.
- In a lengthy post to Instagram, she shares her tips for re-starting the day when she wakes up “with a heavy heart.”
- McKeon was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 14, 2021, at age 19.
- After chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, reconstruction and proton therapy, she remains in remission today.
- Experts say forms of talk therapy can help people cope with the change that a cancer diagnosis brings to a person’s life.
- Another expert recommends practicing mindfulness and mediation in order to begin a journey of healing.
The 21-year-old actress, known for her role in the Netflix series, recently shared that sometimes she wakes up feeling sad, something so many cancer survivors can surely relate to as they continue on their journeys.Read More
“Here’s how I re-start my day: (and btw it’s completely okay to have a sad day and just sit with it),” she wrote in her caption. “Identify recent habits (without judgement). I’m very familiar with my triggers (after lots of years of de-funkifying)” Her triggers were as follows:View this post on Instagram
- “Late night scrolling”
- Analyzing her social media, “as if it’s possible to crack the code to how others perceive you, pretending social media is at all representative (don’t pretend you don’t do it)”
- Lack of connection with her family and friends
- “(Some people are going to hate this one…) country music 🤠 it makes me feel like its summer. So put on some good vibe music or whatever your equivelant to country music is (even though I don’t think there is any)”
- “A journal entry”
- “A workout (endorphins are real !!!)”
- “A call home (mom, dad, Sam, or grandparents)”
- “A scheduled activity with friends”
- “Reduced social media”
- “Book time before bed”
“When I found myself in a funk, I used to turn even MORE inwards, analyzing all the possible reasons why i felt that way, angry that I was upset over ‘nothing,’ etc. It’s natural, but often times it’s unproductive. Doing acts of service for others, checking in on them, can do WONDERS. Being in service to others is where its at people !!!”
Miranda McKeon’s Breast Cancer Journey
Miranda McKeon’s breast cancer journey began when she felt an unexpected lump in her breast during a party with friends.
“I stepped away into the bathroom. I peed, fixed my hair, and performed the classic boob scoop – a typical mid party practice,” she explained.
“I brushed across a lump that was definitely not there before. It was the size of a jellybean but powerful enough to sink my stomach and set off emergency sirens in my head.”
When Breast Cancer Arrives at a Young Age
Knowing something was wrong, she quickly made an appointment to see her primary care doctor. After a resulting mammogram, biopsy and ultrasound, McKeon received a very rare diagnosis for a healthy 19-year-old with no family history of cancer: stage three hormone-positive breast cancer.
“I spent most of that time confused and scared, but mostly in shock,” she told Coping magazine. “Most of us go through life with the belief that we are untouchable. It’s a crazy feeling when the spinner lands on you.”
Freezing Eggs Or Embryos: What Should I Do?
Before treatment began, she had her eggs frozen in case chemotherapy affected her fertility. Then she began eight rounds of AC-T over the course of four months.
AC-T is an abbreviation for a breast cancer chemotherapy combination of drugs that includes doxorubicin hydrochloride (Adriamycin) and cyclophosphamide, followed by treatment with paclitaxel (Taxol).
After chemo, she had a double mastectomy and reconstruction followed by 25 rounds of radiation in the form of proton therapy. Proton therapy is a relatively new form of radiation that does have advantages, but it’s generally more expensive than other treatment alternatives.
The biggest advantage being it minimizes damage to healthy cells since the protons stop at the target, compared to x-rays which continue to pass through the body and leave an exit dose. Proton therapy tends to work best for patients whose cancer has not yet spread to other parts of the body.
RELATED: The Benefits of Proton Therapy
“I never would have anticipated that going through cancer treatment would feel like working five full-time jobs at once!” she said. “For months, my schedule was filled with all-day doctor’s appointments.
“If I had a day off, I was managing symptoms, resting (also a job), not to mention trying to see friends and keep a level of normalcy for my mental health.”
Thankfully, her treatments were successful. She continues to be in remission today, but she’ll need to take three medications for two, five and ten more years.
Mental Health Considerations for Cancer Survivors
Whether you’ve faced cancer or not, it’s normal for people to struggle with their mental health from time to time. But a cancer experience, in particular, may bring on unexpected mental health issues – including feelings of grief.
Dealing with Grief after a Cancer Diagnosis
“Grief comes in waves,” Dr. Scott Irwin, a psychiatrist and director of supportive care services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told SurvivorNet.
“It often gets better over time, but at certain days, it can look like depression. And other days, people look perfectly normal and can function.
“They’re grieving the change in their life, the future they had imagined is now different. In cancer care, sometimes, we’re actually forcing some body changes that are beyond what would be normal aging, and that can be even harder for people to deal with where they don’t feel like themselves.”
Dr. Irwin says talk therapy and support groups can be immensely helpful resources for cancer warriors trying to cope with negative emotions. Ovarian cancer survivor Ni Guttenfelder would likely agree. After her diagnosis in October 2017, she decided to find a therapist.
Ovarian Cancer Survivor Stresses the Importance of Finding the Right Counselor to Support You Through Your Journey
“Initially, I went to a session where I just cried and the counselor basically told me what I was feeling was normal and didn’t offer me any type of feedback,” she told SurvivorNet. “But I knew that I needed something more than that. Not just a crying session and a pat on my shoulder.
“What I have found is that it’s critical to find the right counselor, not just any counselor.”
After taking the time to connect with the right therapist, Guttenfelder started to feel better.
“One of the things that my counselor has taught me from the very beginning that has helped me is the concept of acceptance,” she said. “Acceptance is a process. It’s like downloading a computer file in increments. Visualizing it in that way has really helped me.”
Beyond joining a support group or finding a therapist, meditation and mindfulness can be powerful tools in mental healthcare.
The American Society of Clinical Oncology even says there is data showing that meditation creates “reductions in psychological distress in patients with lung cancer, improves mood and general well-being in patients across several cancer diagnoses, as well as enhances psychological functioning and mindfulness in partners of cancer patients.”
Dr. Brian Berman, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at University of Maryland, takes SurvivorNet through a guided meditation
Dr. Deepak Chopra, acclaimed author and pioneer of mindfulness movement, previously spoke with SurvivorNet about mindfulness. He says the first step on the path to practicing mindfulness is asking yourself who you really are.
“If we can combine our actions in the world with reflective self inquiry, love and compassion, and a state of secure, stable, ornamental, peaceful being without the addictions that humans have, then we can begin our journey of healing,” he said.
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