How One Breast Cancer Survivor Managed Anxiety During Treatment

“I'm kind of dealing with PTSD. It's a lot of trauma for me.”

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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.”