Psychological Effects of Cancer on Young Adults
Undergoing treatment for cancer can have a huge impact on the way one thinks and feels. Cancer and its treatment may affect the patients’ body image – how one feels about the way one looks, feels for friends & family, relationships, other things such as work or studies and physical ability to have sex. It is normal to feel anxious, frightened and even a bit lost. At that time, you might be living in a nightmare and may be depressed. Expect physical changes and be prepared for them. You may be going through the normal phases of growing up but there will be other changes too, as a result of treatment. There will be triumphs, laughter, and humor. You will find the strength to cope. Try to become more flexible. There will be emotional swings. Friends may change. There may also be changes in other relationships. Accept help from others and take one day at a time. All of these feelings are normal. You can survive today and tomorrow. And you can come through this like others have before you. Whatever you feel, it’s ok. You may feel powerless because you don’t know what to do, how you can help yourself or where to turn! You may feel like isolating yourself thinking that how can anyone else possibly understand what you are going through.
A family in pain can put all sorts of strain on each other. It can make a huge difference to know how you’re feeling and accept others as you’re not alone. Look at your priorities and decide to accept any help you can get. Many others have been where you are now. And you are not powerless or helpless; you are already summing inner strength you never knew you had. Be gentle. Be patient. Talking to others in a similar situation can be comforting and supporting. Do the talking when you’re ready. Talking things out with your partner, family members or a counselor is always a good option to help you deal with these feelings and emotions.
Cancer and its treatment can affect people both physically and emotionally. Most people develop side effects, such as hair loss, bleeding, infections, heart or skin problems & weight loss or gain from medicines used in cancer treatment. Some drugs cause one or more of these problems like constipation, vomiting, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, mouth sores etc. Body’s thermostat can be disturbed causing fever with rigors and chills. Losing a body part to cancer can be devastating, especially for teens who are already dealing with body changes. People who have amputations are usually fitted with a prosthesis or artificial limb. Most teens with the prosthesis are able to return to normal activities including sports. Long term side effects such as infertility are becoming more and more important to consider. Having taken some of the precautions before the treatment begins will make your chances of parenting a lot higher than if you hadn’t done anything at all. Counseling and physical therapy can be helpful in this situation.
One may find that it’s more difficult to talk with friends and family about relationships and sex than it was before you had cancer. However, after cancer diagnosis one may have many unanswered questions and may feel the friends don’t understand what it’s like for you, making you feel left out or isolated. Healthcare counselors are used to talking about sensitive and personal matters. They’re experienced in talking with people about sex, feelings and how our bodies work.
Interest in sex may be lowered if the levels of the sex hormones ie. testosterone or estrogen in the body have been reduced by the treatment. There could be a feeling of unattractiveness, tiredness or worry that you’ll never be able to be sexually active. Loss of sexual interest and erection difficulties are often not just caused by physical changes, but can be affected by the emotional upheaval and raised anxiety levels that cancer and its treatments can have. Hormone levels can usually be kept almost normal by taking hormone tablets, using skin patches, applying gel to the skin or having injections. Hormone replacement is important for both men and women – not only for maintaining sex drive but to help keep the bones strong.
It’s important to talk to your partner about how you feel about cancer and its impact on your sex life. Living with cancer doesn’t automatically stop all normal activities including sex life, and it can be reassuring that parts of your life aren’t changed by the fact that you have cancer. Everything must be carried on as normally as one can and sort out any of apparent issues like hair loss, weakness etc. One must also know that cancer does not pass on through sex, nor having sex has any effect on the chances of cancer coming back. Cancer treatment may damage one’s reproductive system, but it does not affect the ability to have sexual feelings and to enjoy sex, either then or in future.