Cancer Support Community Working to Address Need for Mental Health Care in Cancer Survivors
The Reality of Survivorship
A cancer diagnosis brings many psychosocial implications from diagnosis to remission, but life after active disease is not free of emotional distress. Though many are relieved of the immediate distress that develops during a cancer journey shortly into remission, 25% of survivors experience persistent psychosocial distress including anxiety and depression (NCI, 2022). Clinical appointments in survivorship focus mainly on physical symptoms and neglect the conversation of mental needs. In an interview conducted by the National Cancer Institute, Patricia Ganz, M.D., of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center states that
“Often the emotional impact of the cancer diagnosis and treatment does not crop up until 6 months or a year after treatment ends. From the outside, a patient may appear to have fully recovered. But in fact, they are suffering inside.”
Mental health is often not prioritized with the presence of a chronic illness as focus is on physical health, however distress reigns as a prominent symptom well after the illness has subsided. This is the reality for many cancer survivors. Dr. Ganz addresses the need for clinicians to integrate mental health care and resources into the regime of care following cancer treatment in order to make a healthy and complete recovery.
Need for Services
Acknowledging the emotional and mental distress that can be embedded into the journey of recovering from cancer is the primary step in providing proper treatment. Though it is important to monitor physical symptoms, screening for psychosocial issues is equally as important. The patient’s quality of life can be greatly augmented through the appropriate approach and resources designed uniquely for survivors. The multiplicative effects of various physical and mental symptoms during recovery integrate themselves into serious implications when left unaddressed. In recent years, progress has been made in creating interventions and programs tailored to the needs of survivors, allowing for an increase in awareness of mental health among cancer survivors.
The Cancer Transitions: Moving Beyond Treatment Program Working to Address Gap in Care
The Cancer Support Community has created an active and positive approach to addressing the physical, emotional and practical wellbeing of cancer survivors. The Cancer Transitions: Moving Beyond Treatment Program focuses on developing lifestyle skills and pro-social support to enhance the quality of life of participants. The program is comprised of 4 sessions, each focusing on a unique topic in survivorship. Through these weekly 90-minute sessions, participants complete reflective exercises, learn to build healthy habits, watch video modules of expert speakers in salient topics, and engage in group discussions. This provides a comprehensive approach to improving quality of life across multiple sectors. Participants are trained in relaxation and stress management, eating well and staying active as well as addressing barriers to a positive life. Sharing the experience of this course with other survivors experiencing the same obstacles promotes a sense of community amongst the participants that further enhances the program’s benefits.
This program has been proven beneficial and updated regularly since its creation in 2006. Those who have completed the course have seen 47% reduction in worry, 57% increase in physical activity and 66% improvements in dietary habits (Cancer Support Community, 2022). These positive statistics demonstrate the benefits and value of integrating such a program into the journey of survivorship. By the end of the course, survivors are equipped with personalized action plans and the confidence to continue strengthening the various aspects of their health that have been emphasized throughout the program. Cancer Support Community and Gilda’s Club locations as well as other hospitals and cancer centers have utilized this program and seen great success. , As the number of survivors grows, so does the need to implement a multi-faceted, comprehensive program that addresses mental and physical wellbeing. Empowering survivors to seek help in their recovery through such programs will increase overall recovery and quality of life.
“Cancer Transitions.” Cancer Support Community, https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/cancer-transitions.
“Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs of Cancer Survivors.” National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2022/psychosocial-cancer-survivors-patricia-ganz. July 28, 2022.