How to take care of your mental health if you have colon cancer

How to take care of your mental health if you have colon cancer

In 2019, Amy Hart was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 34. After treatment, which included surgery to remove her colon, Amy was disease free, but she still faced the many mental health challenges that come with her condition.

“I think when you hear the words ‘you have cancer’, it doesn’t matter what the diagnosis, stage or type of cancer is, it’s very disheartening,” Amy said. “It gives you a close look at your own mortality, and if you’re 34 and have two young children, you’re going to start to feel an internal struggle.”

Most cancer survivors face some type of mental health problem, she said. Becky Selig, MSWdirector of research and patient education at Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight against colorectal cancer), an organization for patient empowerment and advocacy, but women, in general, may be particularly affected.

“Think of all the demands women have,” Becky said. “A lot of cancer patients also struggle with other inherent daily challenges, you know, being a woman, a mother and trying to balance so many factors in life. All of this can make things worse.”

Amy and other colorectal cancer survivors can deal with a wide variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Understanding the impact colorectal cancer can have on your mental health could help you find ways to deal with it.

Colon cancer survivor, but still at risk

For many people with colorectal cancer, survival is just the beginning. A study of nearly 9,000 colorectal cancer survivors found that these people had more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder compared to other people, even five years or more after diagnosis. And colorectal cancer survivors who received a mental disorder diagnosis had a higher risk of dying than those who didn’t.

Anxiety and depression are particularly frequent and striking nearly 4 out of 10 colorectal cancer survivors. What is a major source of heartache for Amy and other colorectal cancer survivors? Fear that the cancer will come back. “Once you hear the words ‘you have cancer,’ it will always feel like you can hear them again,” Amy said.

Survivors often use the term “anguish of trials” to describe the anxiety they feel before routine cancer tests. “Even if you have negative results for 10 years, the week before the test is going to be tough,” Amy said.

Love your body, with everything and change

It’s no secret that many of us find it difficult to love our bodies. If you add the major physical changes caused by colorectal cancer to the mix, accepting who we are might seem impossible.

“We’ve heard many survivors talk about physical issues and shame related to some of the changes they’ve had since their surgery and treatment,” Becky said.

Low self-esteem was already a problem for Amy long before her diagnosis of colorectal cancer. “I’ve had challenges as a woman and as a person for most of my adult life related to self-acceptance and self-love,” she said.

After her diagnosis, Amy had to deal with her bodily changes caused by colorectal cancer. Surgery to remove her colon has left her with a ostomya bag worn on the outside of the body that collects waste through an opening called a stoma.

“Right before I had the surgery, I was convinced my life was over,” Amy said. “And I was very afraid of how she would react when he woke up.”

But even though she knew that having an ostomy would greatly affect her body image, Amy had no idea how much it would change the way she saw herself and that she would eventually love herself more.

After a lot of work (with the help of a support team that includes a therapist), Amy is so much more accepting of her body, ostomy and all.

“I had a rough time for a considerable amount of time before starting my recovery process in terms of my self-image. But on the other hand, now that I have to wear my ostomy bag and after going through some of the toughest times of my life, I feel more confident about myself,” Amy said. “I’m still learning to accept myself and I have difficult days. But now I feel much kinder to myself.”

Finding ways to address the mental health effects of colon cancer

For some women, wearing a cute or decorated ostomy bag might be helpful in coping, giving them a chance to express their personality and improve their body image. A variety of purse cover selections can be found on the Internet, including dazzling and bold designs.

In addressing the mental health challenges of surviving colorectal cancer, Becky said it’s important to be honest about your needs. “It’s hard for many people to let others help them,” she said. “Give yourself permission to ask for help, and accepting it is something hugely important.”

Becky also suggests talking to a therapist or other survivor who understands your experience and can reassure you that anything you’re feeling is completely normal. “You’re not the only one feeling these anxieties and fears,” Becky said.

Amy’s journey as a colorectal cancer survivor has inspired her to share her experience in social networks hoping it can help other people who are going through difficult times.

“I really want people to know that they can have a normal life after all of this, with adjustments to all the changes,” she said. “Life will continue to be beautiful and painful and annoying, just as it always has been.”

This resource has been prepared with support from Merck.

From articles on your site
  • Colorectal Cancer: What Every Woman Needs to Know ›
  • Colon cancer >
  • Navigating a Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis ›
  • Coping with the emotional impact of head and neck cancer ›
Related articles Around the web