How to Navigate Loneliness, Mental Health, and Cancer
- Grammy-winning singer Melissa Etheridge, 61, revealed relationship struggles and feelings of loneliness inspired one of her biggest career hits: “Come to My Window.”
- Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer after discovering a lump in her breast in 2004. She underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy to treat the cancer.
- Loneliness and other negative feelings are issues that so many cancer survivors can relate to.
- Cancer patients struggling with loneliness may consider looking at people within their support group and categorizing them based on their personality type. This strategy is called the “empathy menu.”
- “There’s a number of common things cancer patients can experience, such as anxiety, depression, financial toxicity, social isolation,” Dr. Shelly Tworoger explained to SurvivorNet.
Etheridge’s hit song won her a Grammy award for “Best Female Rock Vocal Performance” in 1994, and she has said it’s one of her favorite songs that she’s made.Read More
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“I was away all the time, I was traveling and touring. I would always get on the phone, and we would have nothing to talk about because we were so far away…and it was a lot of nothing on the phone. I remember thinking, I didn’t think people would understand this and I almost didn’t put this on the album. But good friends of mine said, Melissa, put this on the album and I’m so glad I did,” Etheridge said.
Etheridge’s career has earned her several awards including multiple Grammys, an Oscar, and a star on the Walk of Fame.
In her personal life, she’s no stranger to adversity. In 2020, she lost her son to opioid addiction. Amid her grief, she turned to music to help her “heal.”
— Melissa Etheridge (@metheridge) May 14, 2020
In 2004, she was diagnosed with breast cancer after discovering a lump in her left breast. A biopsy confirmed her breast cancer diagnosis. She underwent surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
In 2005, the singing cancer warrior bravely performed Grammy Awards while still bald from chemotherapy.
Throughout her inspirational career, she’s dealt with periods of loneliness and had to focus on her mental health to keep her going.
Feelings of loneliness and mental health challenges are emotions many cancer patients can easily relate to. Etheridge turned to music to help her cope during times of struggle.
But you don’t have to be a famous musician to find the outlet you need. SurvivorNet experts say there are other things you can do to help boost your mental health.
Managing Feelings of Loneliness During a Cancer Journey
Loneliness, like what Melissa Etheridge experienced, is just one of several emotions cancer warriors may have at any given time. It’s important to know, feeling lonely and isolated on your journey is completely normal. It’s equally important to lean on your support group to help you through these feelings of loneliness.
Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marianna Strongin says, “Studies have found consistently that loneliness is a significant risk factor for physical and mental illnesses and the trajectory of recovery.”
Dr. Strongin goes on to recommend surrounding yourself with, “individuals who care and support you throughout your treatment.”
Dr. Kelsey Crowe is the founder of Empathy Bootcamp, a company that offers courses to teach people about empathy intelligence. She is also a breast cancer survivor and understands how lonely the cancer journey can feel.
Expert Mental Health Resources
She recommends cancer patients look at people within their support group and categorize them based on their personality type. She calls this strategy the “empathy menu.”
“That menu has categories like the ‘work horse’ that might run errands or the ‘creative type’ that might make something whether it’s a poem or a needlepoint, or the ‘musician’ that would send along their favorite playlist songs or the joker that can send funny clips,” she said.
The “menu” helps cancer patients play to individuals within their support group’s strengths. It gives a certain type of person concrete things they can do to support someone facing hardship.
“If you have a friend who loves music you might have to just say, ‘Hey man, would you mind putting together a playlist for me,’” she said. “And the best thing about it is this person likes to do that.”
She says asking for help in specific ways is often better than just saying, ‘I’m lonely’ because people can be overwhelmed by the gravity of this statement.
WATCH: Managing your mental health.
Focus on Your Mental Health
Melissa Etheridge prioritizing her mental health during times of high stress is one of the things that helped her overcome adversity. Focusing on your mental health is something we should all practice regularly.
For cancer patients, practicing good positive mental health is even more important because of unique challenges like chemotherapy.
“There’s a number of common things cancer patients can experience, such as anxiety, depression, financial toxicity, social isolation,” Dr. Shelly Tworoger explained to SurvivorNet.
Taking care of your mental health while you are going through a challenge, like a cancer diagnosis, takes work. People may turn to different methods to help them cope.
Some options to help your mental health may include:
- Traditional therapy with a trained therapist.
- Support groups are designed to share similar experiences with others and find communal coping solutions.
- Medical interventions such as antidepressants.
It’s important to make sure whatever your coping mechanism to maintain positive mental health works throughout. If you encounter bumps in the road, consider trying something different.
Psychiatrist, Dr. Samantha Boardman urges cancer warriors who may be actively working on their mental health to ask themselves a question.
“Are your coping strategies that you’re using now, are they helpful in the way that they were in the past?”
Questions You May Ask Your Doctor
If you’re struggling with your mental health during your cancer journey, here are some questions you might consider asking your doctor to get the conversation started:
- Who would you recommend if I need to seek out a therapist?
- What type of treatment should I seek if I’m struggling with negative thoughts?
- Are there any local support groups for people in my situation?
- How might struggling with mental health affect my treatment?
- Should I consider medical interventions such as antidepressants?
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