The Emotional, Social and Financial Burden of Cancer
Often the first thing that people think about when they receive a cancer diagnosis is the physical effects of treatment. Surgery can leave patients with body issues, chemotherapy and radiotherapy also takes it toll on patients and has a huge effect on every day life. But what about the other areas of life that are also affected by cancer? Many people don’t have time to think about the emotional effects, the social burden and the financial issues that cancer can cause. It’s best to be aware of how the different aspects of your life can be affected so issues can be dealt with before things get too difficult.
The Emotional Burden of Cancer
Coping with a cancer diagnosis and treatment is often much more difficult than dealing with the physical effects. Often cancer patients can be hit with feelings of anxiety, depression, shock and denial during or after treatment. If treatment has been successful it can be very upsetting for people to find that they feel depressed when they think they should be feeling euphoric. When the support from the hospital stops this can make things difficult, you may feel abandoned. Cancer survivors can also be affected by body image issues after surgery. If treatment affects sex life or fertility this can cause stress or depression. Everyone deals with cancer in their own way, there’s no right or wrong. You may feel like you’re on a rollercoaster, coping one day and struggling the next. You may have feelings of guilt, blame or anger as well as fear, anxiety and panic. If you have advanced or terminal cancer this may bring up a lot of intense feelings as well as having to deal with the possibility of dying.
What about the emotional burden on family members and friends? Often those who take on a caring role suffer more than the patient themselves, it can be devastating watching a loved one deal with cancer treatment. If you are feeling negative this can be draining for the people around you. Your relationships might feel strained and it might be difficult to talk about your feelings.
The Social Burden of Cancer
If you are diagnosed with cancer you may find that you isolate yourself from family and friends, even if you are usually outgoing. Many cancer patients have told me that they have lost friends who simply do not know how to cope with their diagnoses. This adds to the stress of the disease as you could find that the people you thought you could rely on to support you emotionally may just vanish from your life. You may feel helpless but there are plenty of things you can do to take control. If you find it difficult talking to the people close to you, you might want to consider joining a support group or speaking to a therapist. There are more than 800 support groups in the UK. There are also groups for carers, family and friends. Your GP or hospital may be able to tell you where the nearest support group is, or you can search online. Your confidence might be severely knocked if you can’t do the things you used to do. Exercise has been found to be helpful in recovery. Check with your medical team about the best type of exercise to do, it’s important not to push it.
The Financial Burden of Cancer
Having cancer can also have an affect on your finances. If you receive a cancer diagnosis and go through treatment, you will probably be earning less because you can’t work, or are working fewer hours because of treatment. You may also have unexpected expenses. You may be eligible for government benefit or charity grants. There is a whole range of benefits available, so it’s best to get financial advice. A hospital or community social worker can advise you on any benefits you may entitled to. The hospital may also have a Welfare Rights Advisor who can help. You can also contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for advice. They help with filling out benefit forms. There is also information about benefits on the government website, https://www.gov.uk/browse/benefits
You may be able to claim for Mortgage Payment Protection Insurance to help pay your mortgage if you need to. If you don’t have insurance, your mortgage lender may be able to help you by making changes to your repayments. You may not be able to join an Occupational Pension Scheme at work (it depends on the scheme). Taking out a credit card might not be a good idea, as your ability to earn and make repayments might be affected. Life insurance companies are unlikely to issue a policy for at least two to three years after recovering from cancer. You may benefit from Critical Illness Insurance if you don’t have it already. It’s also a good idea to notify your car insurance company if you have cancer (or you might have trouble making a claim later). Getting travel insurance when you have cancer might be difficult (many companies are now looking at it on a case by case basis).
If you are affected by any of these issues please don’t suffer in silence. Speak to people around you (if you can), your medical team, or someone like me who has lots of experience in helping people with the emotional effects of cancer. Coping emotionally can be just as difficult as coping with the physical effects, and often patients and family members say coping with emotions and stress about the unknown is the hardest part. Remember you are not alone and there is plenty of support available.