Cancer Care: Focusing on mental health for patients

. March 31, 2019.
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Almost 10 percent of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with cancer, along with countless other lives having been affected by the disease.

Linda Waters, local Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Supervisor, and doctoral candidate at the University of Toledo, explains, “People are living with cancer a lot longer because treatment is much better, and they have to deal with many stressors, including some end-of-life issues.”

This realization led Waters, a Toledo native, to pursue a doctorate in counselor education at UT after spending approximately 20 years in the field as a clinical mental health counselor. Linda explains that not all mental health issues are the same, and individuals with cancer deal with specific concerns, such as “fears of cancer recurrence and progression.”

“They also [deal with] cancer-related fatigue while having treatments and long after treatment ends…and [that can lead] to social isolation because patients don’t have the energy to be around people,” Waters continues. “Those living with cancer also have a higher incidence of depression and anxiety than the general population.”

Linda Waters, Licensed Clinical Counselor

Linda Waters, Licensed Clinical Counselor

Cancer and depression

Studies show that 7 percent of the general population has experienced a depressive disorder in the last year, while some estimates reveal that 15-58 percent of individuals with cancer experience depression.

For that reason, as she pursues a PhD in counselor education at UT, Water’s doctoral dissertation centers on counseling services for individuals with cancer. Linda explains that counseling is important for those with cancer, in part, because “people who have cancer are oftentimes protective of their family and don’t want to talk about these things with their family members, which becomes a barrier to getting help.”

“The time of year they were diagnosed with cancer can also [cause them] to become really fearful. They wonder, ‘is this going to be the time of year when the cancer comes back?’”

Common stressors

Waters cites other common stressors for those with cancer, such as the financial burden of paying for treatment (even with “good” insurance) and spiritual/existential dilemmas as they struggle to find meaning and face their own mortality.

Linda finishes by explaining that “counseling always improves quality of life, and cancer is a long-term stressor— even if you’re out of active treatment— but learning how to cope can improve your quality of life.”

“There is also some evidence that when a person’s mental health is taken care of, they have a higher rate of improvement…[and] will have a better outcome after a year. They are more likely to be compliant with treatment and do what the doctors ask them to do,” she said. “When you’re depressed, the primary feeling is hopelessness, and people think, ‘Why bother?’”

Waters completed her internship in an oncology department and provided “chairside counseling.” She reflects, “One thing that is really surprising is that people don’t show up for chemo. We think everyone wants to beat cancer and live, [but] they may be depressed.”

Support for cancer patients

American Cancer Society: 800.227.2345
Candlelighters of Northwest Ohio, Support for children with cancer and their parents: 419.251.4153
Flower Hospital Breast Care Center, Education for women diagnosed with Breast Cancer: 419.824.1126
Laryngectomy Club of Toledo, Support for individuals who have had cancer of the larynx : 419.691.2897
ProMedica Caregiver Support Group, for spouses and families of cancer patients: 419.824.1004
ProMedica Lymphedema Support Group: 419.824.1116
Renee’s Survivor Shop, multiple groups and activities. Information: 419.471.0603
The Victory Center: 419.531.7600

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