Therapy. Do It.

There is nothing pretty about a cancer diagnosis and I’m learning quickly that its trauma has the power to introduce depression, anxiety, and despair into your mind. It can wreak havoc on your emotions and your relationships. If I could go back and change anything about my journey with cancer I would have signed myself and my husband up for therapy the day I was diagnosed. From the moment I heard the words “you have cancer” Xavier and I were adamant about facing cancer with joy and positivity, but we refused to face the ugly trauma that came with it. Fear and anger built up in each of us differently and ultimately led to some tough marital and emotional issues. We started individual therapy about 6 weeks ago and it has already been truly life-changing. Therapy has given me a space to express fears and emotions I didn’t know I had and my therapist has given me tools to combat my newly acquired anxiety and care for myself more effectively.

Xavier and I are self-employed and don’t have traditional insurance, so we chose to do private therapy. For us it has been a worthwhile investment, but I realize this is not an option for everyone. My sweet friend and clinical psychologist, Dr Joan Franklin, sent me some insight on mental health resources:

"First of all, I have to say, that a mental health consult should be part of the process at the time of diagnosis- for the patient and the family. Many hospitals, clinics and nonprofit cancer organizations provide social work or counseling services without a fee because they are considered an important part of the comprehensive services of the cancer program. People should be educated that there is a psychological impact on everyone involved and help is available. There is just so much to deal with and so much guilt and anger and nowhere for it to go. Obviously, for people with means and/or decent insurance there is private psychotherapy, and for those with limited resources there are some free or low-cost options"

Cancer Care offers free in-person, telephone, and online counseling: https://www.cancercare.org/counseling

American Psychosocial Oncology Society offers a toll-free Helpline to help people with cancer, caregivers, and advocacy organizations find local counseling services throughout the United States: 1-866-276-7443 | www.apos-society.org

More insight from Dr. Franklin:

“Mental health services are not free as a part of your medical cancer care, but they’re usually covered in part by health insurance. Call your health insurance company to find out which professional services are covered and the dollar amount it will cover. An increasing number of cities and towns have free support groups sponsored by local hospitals, religious organizations, or cancer advocacy groups such as the American Cancer Society. If there are no free counseling services in the hospital or clinic where you are being treated, staff can usually help you get clear information about your insurance plan and what services are covered. Your oncology team should also know of services in the community that may use a sliding scale fee that adjusts to your income. They may be aware of services in the community offered at low or no cost to you, too.

And then there are free support groups- not quite the same thing as individual therapy but can be helpful in providing support and managing expectations etc.”

Here is some general info on support groups:

Cancer support groups are meetings for people with cancer and anyone touched by the disease. They can have many benefits. Even though a lot of people receive support from friends and family, the number one reason they join a support group is to be with others who have similar cancer experiences. Some research shows that joining a support group improves both quality of life and survival.

Support groups can:

·       Help you feel better, more hopeful, and not so alone

·       Give you a chance to talk about your feelings and work through them

·       Help you deal with practical problems, such as problems at work or school

·       Help you cope with side effects of treatment

Some groups focus on all kinds of cancer. Others talk about just one kind, such as a group for women with breast cancer or one for men with prostate cancer. Some can be open to everyone or just for people of a certain age, sex, culture, or religion. For instance, some groups are just for teens or young children.

Support groups can also be helpful for children or family members. These groups focus on family concerns such as role changes, relationship changes, financial worries, and how to support the person with cancer. Some groups include both cancer survivors and family members.

Where to Find a Support Group:

Many hospitals, cancer centers, community groups, and schools offer cancer support groups. Here are some ways to find groups near you:

·       Call your hospital and ask about its cancer support programs.

·       Ask your hospital’s social worker to suggest groups.

·       Do an online search for groups. Or go to the NCI database Organizations that Offer Cancer Support Services for suggestions.

·       Find a local group through MeetUp: https://www.meetup.com/topics/cancer/

I hope this is helpful to you. Maybe talking to someone you don’t know sounds like the last thing you want to do right now but trust me, it can be so groundbreaking for you, your spouse, and your family members. If you’re like me you are looking to put on a brave face and defeat cancer with joy and positivity and that is wonderful, but you can’t do that unless you deal with your ALL of your emotions. If I can convince just one person to sign up for therapy, this blog will be worth it.

hilary schleier