Mental Health During a Cancer Journey
- Comedian and lung cancer survivor Kathy Griffin, 62, recently shared her complex PTSD diagnosis.
- Complex PTSD can result from experiencing chronic (long-term) trauma and can lead to anxiety, nightmares, and heightened emotional responses.
- Griffin revealed her stage 1 lung cancer diagnosis via social media in Aug. 2021. For treatment, she underwent a left lung resection that greatly affected her vocal cords.
- A cancer journey comes with a complex range of emotions. Even the most resilient and positive fighters know it’s important to let the negative emotions out, but you also get to choose how you respond to them.
The 62-year-old recently took to social media to “bare [her] soul” about her recent struggles with mental health and its physical side effects.
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“I put this effect on because it kind of shows how Im feeling,” Griffin wrote under a video of her with a hypnotizing filter that duplicated her face. “I have been diagnosed with complex PTSD and for the last year and a half I have been plagued with terrifying panic attacks.
“Sometimes they last a few hours or more typically, they last at least a full day if not multiple days in a row. I feel silly even telling you this, because I always thought PTSD was just for veterans and stuff. During my attacks, I typically vomit quite a bit and often have to go to the ER just to get IV fluids. Anybody else? 😬😅”
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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in general, is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. Complex PTSD, or CPTSD, according to the Cleveland Clinic, can result from experiencing chronic (long-term) trauma. CPTSD involves stress responses, such as:
- Having flashbacks or nightmares.
- Avoiding situations, places and other things related to the traumatic event.
- Heightened emotional responses, such as impulsivity or aggressiveness.
- Persistent difficulties in sustaining relationships.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is the main treatment for complex PTSD.
If you feel you are experiencing any of these symptoms, such as after a cancer diagnosis or treatment, it’s important you talk to your doctor. A patient navigator can also help connect you with a mental health professional who can offer important treatment.
Griffin says that when she feels a panic attack coming on, she copes by taking a walk outside by the ocean to calm down. She also reassures herself that the attack will pass and “it won’t last forever.”
Kathy Griffin’s Lung Cancer Journey
Kathy Griffin shared that her PTSD began about five years ago, before her cancer journey. But she says her cancer diagnosis certainly “didn’t help” the situation.
Griffin shared the news of her stage 1 lung cancer diagnosis as a non-smoker in Aug. 2021. For treatment, she needed surgery to remove half of her left lung since the cancer seemed to be contained there.
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Griffin told fans she was cancer-free in December 2021, but she still had a lengthy recovery ahead. Especially since her voice – which she jokingly described as “Minnie Mouse meets Marilyn Monroe” – was damaged by the use of an intubation tube during surgery.
Fans received the happy update that her six-month check up scans were clear in February 2022, but they later learned of her discontentment with the way that her doctor performed her initial treatments.
“He ruined my vocal chords & my arytenoids permanently!” she wrote in August 2022. “My voice is my living. It’s discouraging 2 me that people are sticking up 4 a surgeon who has caused me so many difficulties. I had stage 1. I sure wish I had gotten chemo/radiation instead of surgery with this hack Dr.”
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Girffin has since switched doctors and continues to make strides in her recovery. An update from September 2022 revealed that she was feeling good about her progress.
“My health is pretty good. And I’m cancer free, which is great!” Griffin told E! News. “But I did sustain some injuries from the surgery. So, I’m working on my voice to get it better, keeping my fingers crossed, but it used to be even worse than this.
“At least now I can be heard, it was like a whisper for six months.”
Then, in December 2022, Griffin shared she was having another operation done to address her voice.
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“I’m on my way to the hospital again, because I have to go into general to get another procedure on my vocal cords,” she explained in a video. “So, the good news is I get to come home today.
“But last time I got this done, it hurt for like seven days. But I’m just being a baby. But I want to get my voice back, you know, I’ll do anything.”
With an upcoming show scheduled for this summer, we’re hoping Griffin is on the up and up and continuing to improve both her physical and mental health.
Processing the Emotions of a Cancer Journey
Your physical health may be your priority during a cancer journey, but it’s important to remember your mental health is just as important. Negative emotions like anger, shame, fear, anxiety are to be expected, but allowing yourself to express them does not have to be a bad thing.
You Just Have to Let It Out: Survivor Evelyn Reyes-Beato on Healing Emotionally After Cancer
“You have to let it out,” colon cancer survivor Evelyn Reyes-Beato previously told SurvivorNet. “Your mental and your emotional help your physical get in line. If you keep all of the emotions in, the way I see it, is that stuff is going to eat you up inside and it’s not going to let you heal.”
That being said, your response to the negative emotions that come is crucial. Dr. William Breitbart, the chair of the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, says accepting the uncertainty of the situation can help.
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“What the task becomes is having the courage to live in the face of uncertainty, realizing that you cannot necessarily control the uncertainty in life, the suffering that occurs, limitations, challenges both good and bad,” Dr. Breitbart said. “You may not be able to control those but you have control over how you choose to respond to them and the attitudes you take towards them.”
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