Any life-threatening disease is bound to have both immediate and long-term impacts on the way a person sees the world. On one hand, it’s a reminder to cherish every day you have with loved ones—to not let precious moments go by unsavored. A serious disease can also make day-to-day problems suddenly seem far less dramatic than they previously had been. But if appreciation and gratitude are silver lining of a major diagnosis, you can’t ignore the large storm cloud that they’re accentuating.
Breast cancer is one of the most high-profile diseases in the nation, and the most frequently diagnosed life-threatening cancer among women. While any type of serious diagnosis can be psychologically devastating, breast cancer’s prominence has inspired a great number of studies, many of which focus on the mental health ramifications of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
In many cases, breast cancer is treatable but requires mastectomy. Mastectomy, beyond the disease itself, can increase the rate of depression and low self-esteem that survivors experience. Today, it’s far more common for breast reconstruction surgery to follow immediately after mastectomy. This helps offset the mental health ramifications of the treatment, although, interestingly, a woman’s personality type seems to influence how much reconstruction will benefit her post-operative quality of life.
As holistic medicine gains favor, hospitals are employing a greater number of therapists to counsel not only breast cancer patients, but their family members as well. The impact of having a spouse who battles breast cancer is significant. In fact, a recent Danish study found that men whose wives are treated for breast cancer are almost 40% more likely to be hospitalized for severe depression; more aggressive cancers and relapses corresponded with even higher rates of depression.
Especially surprising is the number of women, not diagnosed with breast cancer, who may need to meet with a therapist because of their non-diagnosis. How is that? Especially for women who struggle with anxiety, a false-positive mammogram yields lower quality of life than a breast cancer diagnosis itself, according to a new study. For those who are especially anxious about their health, fighting cancer with treatment may feel more productive and concrete than living with “what if.”
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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