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, Hart is now disease free, but she still faces the mental health challenges that come with it.

“I think when you hear the words ‘You have cancer’ — it doesn’t matter what your diagnosis is, it doesn’t matter what stage or what type of cancer — it’s shocking,” Hart said. “It puts your own mortality in your face and at 34 with two young children, I struggled with that idea.”

Most cancer survivors are dealing with some type of mental health issue, she said Becky Selig, MSWdirector of patient education and research at the patient empowerment and advocacy organization Fight Colorectal Cancer, but women can be hit especially hard.

“Think of all the demands that fall on women,” Selig said. “A lot of cancer patients are also struggling with the other day-to-day challenges that come with — you know — being a woman and a mom and trying to balance so many factors in life. All of this can really compound on itself.

Hart and other colorectal cancer survivors can face a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Understanding the impact colorectal cancer can have on your mental health can help you figure out how to deal with it.

Colon cancer survivor but still at risk

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

Anxiety and depression are particularly common and striking nearly 4 out of 10 colorectal cancer survivors. A major source of anxiety for Hart and other colorectal cancer survivors? Afraid their cancer will come back. “Once you feel like you have cancer, it always feels like you can feel it again,” Hart said.

Survivors often use the term “crawl anxiety” to describe the anxiety they feel before having routine scans to check for cancer. “Even if you get clean scans for 10 years, the week leading up to a scan is going to be tough,” Hart said.

Loving your body, changes and all

It’s no secret that many of us have a hard time loving our bodies. Add in the major physical changes caused by colorectal cancer and self-acceptance can seem impossible.

“We’ve heard many survivors talk about body issues and shame about some of the changes they’ve undergone, both through surgery and treatment,” Selig said.

Low self-esteem was already a problem for Hart long before his colorectal cancer diagnosis. “I was struggling as a woman, as a person, pretty much my entire adult life to accept and love myself,” she said.

Following her diagnosis, Hart was forced to confront the ways colorectal cancer has changed her body. The operation to remove her colon has left her un ostomya pouch worn on the outside of the body that collects waste through an opening called a stoma.

“Right before I went into surgery, I was convinced my life was over,” Hart said. “And I was really afraid of how I would react when I woke up.”

But while she knew the ostomy would have a huge impact on her body image, Hart didn’t anticipate how much it would change the way she looked and that she’d eventually love herself more.

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

“It took some time to come down before I could begin my upward journey with my image of myself. But on the other side of having an ostomy bag and going through some of the most important moments in my life, I feel more confident in myself,” Hart said. “I’m still learning to accept myself and have difficult days. kinder to myself.

Finding ways to cope with the mental health effects of colon cancer

For some women, using a cute or decorated ostomy bag liner can be a helpful way to cope, allowing them to express their personality and enhance their body image. You can find a wide selection of bag covers online, from dazzled to obscene.

To cope with the mental health challenges that come with colorectal cancer survival, Selig said it’s important to be honest about what you need. “A lot of people have a hard time letting people help,” she said. “Allowing yourself to ask for help and to accept help can be huge.”

Selig also suggests talking to a therapist or fellow survivor who understands your experience and can reassure you that anything you’re feeling is completely normal. “Those anxieties and fears? You are not alone in this,” Selig said.

Hart’s journey as a colorectal cancer survivor inspired her to share her experience social media in the hope that it will help others who are struggling.

“I want so badly for people to know that normal life is on the other side of all this, along with all the changes,” she said. “Life is still beautiful, painful, annoying, mundane – all of those things – as it always was.”

This resource was created with support from Merck.

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