Brenda: Emotional impact and Support for Cancer Patients

When people hear the word ‘cancer’, all negative thoughts will always flow into their minds.  To most people, it signifies terminal illness despite increasing numbers of real cures as well as meaningful remissions.  For many cancer patients and their families, the cancer journey is always an intensely stressful moment.  It can be rather difficult to identify and honor the feelings.  Therefore, emotional support is always important for most cancer patients during their cancer journey.  Not to be forgotten, different supports from various organizations, people and services may improve cancer patients’ mental and physical health.

Fear, sadness, anger and other emotions, with vulnerability, anxiety and even depression will surface during the cancer journey for cancer patients and their family members.  The distressed feelings of uncertainty, questions, and concerns about responsiveness to cancer treatments, life changes within family, friends, work and routines, worries about mortality as well as confusion about meaning and purpose in life can fill up cancer patients’ mind.

The mind-body connection with unresolved, painful thoughts and feelings can cultivate disconnect internally and externally.  Without the capacity to identify, and express the mental and emotional reactions, cancer patients can reject themselves and others.  Any suppressed emotions can become toxic to the physical body too.  Ongoing perceived loneliness with a sense of isolation also supports detachment, dissociation, and disconnect.

Similar to Kubler-Ross model, the five commonly recognized stages of cancer grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  However, not everyone experiences all stages or goes through them in a certain order.  Denial is a coping mechanism to help an individual survive news that is difficult to handle.  During the anger stage, people always start questioning ‘Why did this happen to me?’ or ‘What did I do to deserve this?’.  Next, people will try to bargain to prevent future losses by changing their lifestyle of even promising God that they will change their behaviour in exchange for good health.  However, sadness or depression will always attack cancer patients upon diagnosis and affecting their mood, energy levels, motivation, and daily lifestyle.  Finally, when cancer patients accept their cancer diagnosis, it may not necessary mean that they have completely let go of their grief.  They may revert to other stages again.
This is where a social worker, counsellor and doctors can help cancer patients to wade through all information and make decisions during this distressing moment.  Information is a powerful antidote to fear and anxiety. Hence, open communication serves important role between patients and caregivers during the cancer journey. 
Doctors share different available options to patients and the pros and cons of the treatments options.  This helps patients to have a better understanding of what they will go through and make a decision that best fit in to their situations.  Emotional support creates connection and kindness to cancer patients is medicine.  Talking to other cancer patients and survivors often help to alleviate stress and depression.  There are a lot of cancer support groups available these days, be it in the hospital or other welfare organizations that provide a safe place for cancer patients to share experiences with others who are dealing with or have experienced cancer.  Social workers often are the people who will work closely with patients and the family members.  They often help to collaborate and identify solutions to their problems, ranging from financial difficulties to family issues.

Learning about available resources is also needful.  Community resources provide support and assistance in order that individuals and families may better cope in the long run.  Other than community hospitals, family service centres (counselling support) and social service office (financial support), there are other organizations aim to provide support for cancer patients in various aspects.  They are:

  • Singapore Cancer Society (home care, financial, psychosocial and bereavement support, rehabilitation programme, cancer support groups, family, and youth engagement)
  • Children Cancer Foundation (back-to-school service, caregiver support, emotional and financial support, palliative and bereavement support, academic and learning support)
  • Breast Cancer Foundation (mammogram sponsorship, education, and empowerment programme, befriender, enrichment programme, wig loan, talks, prostheses and bras sponsorship)
  • 365 Cancer Prevention Society (day activity centre, emotional and financial support, nutrition assistance, gatherings and outings, lymphatic detox exercise and detox dance, health education)
  • Leukaemia and Lymphoma Foundation (treatment cost subsidy, befrienders, and emotional support)
  • Brain Tumour Society Singapore (financial and emotional support, support group, befriender) 
  • AINS Society (emotional support, financial support, enrichment programmes for patients and families)
  • Assisi Home and Hospice (in-patient care, home care, day care)
  • Bright Vision Hospital (in-patient care, rehabilitation centre, TCM clinic)
  • Dover Park Hospice (in-patient care)
  • Hospice Care Association (home care, day care)
  • Methodist Hospice Fellowship (home care, spiritual and emotional support)
  • Metta Hospice Care (home care, spiritual care, medical equipment loan)
  • St Joseph’s Home (In-patient care, spiritual support)
  • HCA Hospice Care (home care, day care) (psychosocial, bereavement support, palliative and young caregivers programme, home care equipment loan)

 To sum it up, it is challenging for cancer patients to walk through the cancer journey alone.  Many times, the diagnosis of cancer brutally reminds us of our own finality.  It may sometimes a blessing to use the time of illness to think about death and dying in terms of ourselves, regardless of whether the patient will have to meet death or get an extension of life.  Families, friends, and health professionals play different roles to support cancer patients.  As sociologist Margaret Mead once said: “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world.’’  The more we support the family as a unit or the people who support the patient, the better we are at helping the patient throughout the whole process.