“I'm kind of dealing with PTSD. It's a lot of trauma for me.”
When Roshni Kamta learned she had breast cancer at age 22, she understood some of the things she should expect. She knew she might lose her hair and eyebrows. She knew she might experience nausea during treatment. What she wasn’t ready for was the anxiety during breast cancer treatment.
“I was not prepared for the mental stuff,” says Kamta. “I'm kind of dealing with PTSD. It's a lot of trauma for me.”
Anxiety During Breast Cancer
Every patient’s experience is different, but cancer can commonly cause changes in mental health. Anxiety may be a common reaction as patients feel worried about their long-term health or how effective treatment will be. Cancer may also cause a sense of powerlessness for many patients.
In one 2017 study of 339 women undergoing breast cancer treatment, 45 percent of the women had severe levels of anxiety at the time of diagnosis. Many of the women who experienced anxiety also reported worsened body image, sexual enjoyment, and overall quality of life.
Managing the Anxiety
Social support can play a significant role in a person’s mental health during cancer treatment.
“Roshni has been uniquely vocal about her experience getting a cancer diagnosis,” says Hanna Irie, MD, oncologist at Mount Sinai Hospital who treated Kamta. “She has been incredibly open and honest about her experiences. I like to think that that's helped her heal from the various treatments as well.”
If a patient doesn’t have strong support from their own family and friends, it can be helpful to seek out support groups or therapy programs. Many oncology centers offer their own support groups for patients or have a psychologist on staff. These can help patients navigate the experience from people who “get it.”
“I've been seeing a therapist since I've been in treatment,” says Kamta. “I was very angry during chemo and I took that out on my parents [and] people close to me, and that's not the type of person that I am. … I just didn't know how to deal with my feelings, so talking to someone, like a therapist, has really helped.”
Anxiety as a “Survivor”
In general, many people see their anxiety levels decrease at the end of their cancer treatment. In the 2017 study mentioned earlier, the rate of severe anxiety dropped to 19 percent of women by the end of treatment.
However, anxiety is still common among “survivors” after treatment. For example, some may worry about cancer recurrence, and others—like Kamta—may be processing trauma from the diagnosis, or how the experience affects their self-identity.
“Sometimes I don't feel like a survivor,” says Kamta. “I have an issue when people tell me that I'm strong because sometimes I don't feel that way, and a lot of times during chemo I just wanted to give up and just feel like this isn't worth it. It sucked.”
Kamta also feels pressure about being a cancer survivor. “People that don't go through cancer, they put cancer patients on a pedestal of success. When you're done with treatment, you're just supposed to be this incredible human being who can just change people's lives, and it's a lot of pressure,” she says.
Advice for Managing Anxiety
“Every patient has his or her own way of dealing with a diagnosis of breast cancer, and there is no one right way,” says Dr. Irie.
For example, some people are more private about their experience, whereas others are vocal and actively seek support and community. Some patients want to “talk it out,” while others just want to ignore their diagnosis around their friends and try to live a normal life.
“For someone who prefers to be more private … I just want these individuals to know that if they need to discuss any stressors related to treatment and their diagnosis, that there are … psychologists and psychiatrists who are open and ready to help discuss these issues in private,” says Dr. Irie.
Kamta offers her own advice: ““Be kind to yourself, accept help, [and] feel your feelings,” says Kamta. “You need your own time to process your feelings.”
00:00:01.700 --> 00:00:07.366
(somber piano music and waves crashing)
00:00:07.367 --> 00:00:10.499
My name is Roshni. I'm 24.
00:00:10.500 --> 00:00:13.932
I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer at 22,
00:00:13.933 --> 00:00:15.966
right before my 23rd birthday,
00:00:15.967 --> 00:00:18.532
and what I struggled with the most when dealing
00:00:18.533 --> 00:00:21.266
with breast cancer was the mental part of it.
00:00:21.267 --> 00:00:24.666
I wasn't expecting it. It kind of hit me like a bus,
00:00:24.667 --> 00:00:27.999
because you watch cancer patients on TV,
00:00:28.000 --> 00:00:30.666
and it's all the physical.
They lose their hair,
00:00:30.667 --> 00:00:34.066
they have no eyebrows, or they don't have any eyelashes,
00:00:34.067 --> 00:00:36.132
and that's what I was prepared for.
00:00:36.133 --> 00:00:38.599
I was not prepared for the mental stuff.
00:00:38.600 --> 00:00:44.632
(somber piano music)
00:00:44.633 --> 00:00:49.232
So my experience with anxiety, it's mostly towards
00:00:49.233 --> 00:00:51.099
being diagnosed with cancer.
00:00:51.100 --> 00:00:53.566
I'm kind of dealing with PTSD.
00:00:53.567 --> 00:00:55.432
It's a lot of trauma for me.
00:00:55.433 --> 00:00:59.166
Cancer, it's shitty. It absolutely sucks.
00:00:59.167 --> 00:01:04.032
I like to think about it as 60% mental and 40% physical.
00:01:04.033 --> 00:01:07.966
The physical things, like nausea, eating,
00:01:07.967 --> 00:01:10.132
you can handle that. You can control that,
00:01:10.133 --> 00:01:13.866
but the mental stuff, you have to try to get yourself
00:01:13.867 --> 00:01:16.966
to work up to get out of bed,
00:01:16.967 --> 00:01:19.766
to do something that's a little normal,
00:01:19.767 --> 00:01:23.366
or want to talk to people about what's happening to you.
00:01:23.367 --> 00:01:25.399
That's all on you.
00:01:25.400 --> 00:01:30.966
You have to get yourself mentally to do all that stuff.
00:01:30.967 --> 00:01:32.266
No, it looks great.
00:01:32.267 --> 00:01:33.332
00:01:33.333 --> 00:01:35.866
Your skin will heal. It will take a couple more weeks.
00:01:35.867 --> 00:01:36.432
00:01:36.433 --> 00:01:39.866
(Dr. Irie) Roshni has been uniquely vocal
00:01:39.867 --> 00:01:44.232
about her experience getting a cancer diagnosis,
00:01:44.233 --> 00:01:46.432
as well as the treatments.
00:01:46.433 --> 00:01:50.299
She has been incredibly open and honest
00:01:50.300 --> 00:01:52.332
about her experiences.
00:01:52.333 --> 00:01:54.632
I like to think that that's helped her heal
00:01:54.633 --> 00:01:56.532
from the various treatments as well,
00:01:56.533 --> 00:01:59.899
but I know that working in support groups,
00:01:59.900 --> 00:02:03.599
she has really encouraged other younger women
00:02:03.600 --> 00:02:06.799
going through a very similar experience.
00:02:06.800 --> 00:02:09.966
I've been seeing a therapist since I've been in treatment,
00:02:09.967 --> 00:02:12.832
which is very helpful because you're telling
00:02:12.833 --> 00:02:15.599
how you feel to that person, and then that person
00:02:15.600 --> 00:02:18.932
is coming back to you with, 'Okay, your feelings are valid.'
00:02:18.933 --> 00:02:22.166
I was very angry during chemo
00:02:22.167 --> 00:02:26.466
and I took that out on my parents, you know,
people close to me,
00:02:26.467 --> 00:02:29.032
and that's not the type of person that I am,
00:02:29.033 --> 00:02:31.732
but I just didn't know how to deal with my feelings,
00:02:31.733 --> 00:02:35.266
so talking to someone, like a therapist, has really helped
00:02:35.267 --> 00:02:38.866
because sometimes I don't feel like a survivor.
00:02:38.867 --> 00:02:40.766
I have sort of survivor's guilt,
00:02:40.767 --> 00:02:45.099
and I just have an issue when people tell me that I'm strong
00:02:45.100 --> 00:02:47.866
because sometimes I don't feel that way,
00:02:47.867 --> 00:02:51.399
and a lot of times during chemo I really just wanted to give up
00:02:51.400 --> 00:02:55.032
and just feel like this isn't worth it. It sucked.
00:02:55.033 --> 00:02:58.466
And it's difficult when people that don't go through cancer,
00:02:58.467 --> 00:03:01.599
they put cancer patients on a pedestal of success.
00:03:01.600 --> 00:03:03.666
When you're done with treatment,
00:03:03.667 --> 00:03:06.332
you're just supposed to be this incredible human being
00:03:06.333 --> 00:03:09.932
who can change people's lives, and it's just,
it's a lot of pressure.
00:03:09.933 --> 00:03:13.299
It's hard to be positive all the time, and that's its own job,
00:03:13.300 --> 00:03:16.466
is trying to mentally get yourself to get through it,
00:03:16.467 --> 00:03:19.399
and just be kind to yourself, accept help,
00:03:19.400 --> 00:03:24.566
feel your feelings also.
You need your own time to process your feelings.
00:03:24.567 --> 00:03:29.432
(waves crashing on shore)
00:03:29.433 --> 00:03:31.999
(Dr. Irie) Every patient has his or her own way
00:03:32.000 --> 00:03:34.166
of dealing with a diagnosis of breast cancer
00:03:34.167 --> 00:03:36.699
and there is no one right way.
00:03:36.700 --> 00:03:40.099
For someone who prefers to be more private
00:03:40.100 --> 00:03:43.599
about their diagnosis and their treatment,
00:03:43.600 --> 00:03:47.032
I just want these individuals to know
00:03:47.033 --> 00:03:50.499
that if they need to discuss any stressors
00:03:50.500 --> 00:03:52.999
related to treatment and their diagnosis,
00:03:53.000 --> 00:03:54.966
that there are individuals,
00:03:54.967 --> 00:03:57.666
for example, psychologists and psychiatrists,
00:03:57.667 --> 00:04:04.766
who are open and ready to help
discuss these issues in private.
00:04:04.767 --> 00:04:06.400
(slow piano music)