I’m going to deviate a bit from the normal type of Weekly Blog that I do for Google. Instead, I am going to dedicate this particular writing to the Big “C” or Cancer. This disease has taken friends, family, and loved ones from all of us and appears to be as evasive to cure as it ever was. Is it caused by lifestyle, Genetics, or God? Certainly a lot of theories are out there, but the one that prompts me to write this is when I hear/read someone is blaming themselves (or worse yet, another person) for a death caused by Cancer! ( At the end of this writing, I am attaching a Fact Sheet by the American Cancer Institute .)
To my very core there is an optimism that at times… well, flickers. It flickers not with a doubt that each of us is here on Earth for a specific reason, but why some humans are called Home in the middle of a productive life. It is painful for all that remain behind and struggle to pick up the pieces. My continuing Mantra is: We are what we choose for ourselves and I strongly believe it, but lately I am concerned with the burdens and guilt that we place upon ourselves…and others… when someone we love dies from Cancer.
We are neither the cause of someone getting Cancer nor dying from the disease. That’s the fact. The now deceased had either lived an unhealthy life-style that might have included smoking, drinking, et. al. or there was a hereditary predisposition to the disease. And, every once in a great while… there seems to be no logical explanation.
When my children’s father died of Brain Cancer two years ago, I was asked by one of my own offspring if they caused the death. Although I knew they were serious because their own negative choices at the time were of grave concern and heartache… I assured them it was impossible. It is impossible. You can add sadness and stress to the end of a Cancer patient’s life, but it is not you who gave them the disease. It is not you who kills them.
Strangely, there was even media attention given to the death, by Cancer, of Farrah Fawcett. Ryan O’Neal blamed his daughter, Tatum, for not being nicer to Farrah and perhaps that’s why she died of the disease. Really?
Recently, I was told that someone had died of Cancer at an early age and they were wondering if it was because the lady had been hit so often as a child in an abusive situation. No!
My mother died of Cancer; it was her time.
My best friend died of Cancer; it was his time.
Other family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances have died from this horrible
disease; they have all been called Home.
We do not know the reason(s) they died; we did not cause the disease. We do not have that power.
Psychological Stress and Cancer
Psychological stress alone has not been found to cause cancer, but psychological stress that lasts a long time may affect a person’s overall health and ability to cope with cancer.
People who are better able to cope with stress have a better quality of life while they are being treated for cancer, but they do not necessarily live longer.
What is psychological stress?
Psychological stress describes what people feel when they are under mental, physical, or emotional pressure. Although it is normal to experience some psychological stress from time to time, people who experience high levels of psychological stress or who experience it repeatedly over a long period of time may develop health problems (mental and/or physical).
Stress can be caused both by daily responsibilities and routine events, as well as by more unusual events, such as a trauma or illness in oneself or a close family member. When people feel that they are unable to manage or control changes caused by cancer or normal life activities, they are in distress. Distress has become increasingly recognized as a factor that can reduce the quality of life of cancer patients. There is even some evidence that extreme distress is associated with poorer clinical outcomes. Clinical guidelines are available to help doctors and nurses assess levels of distress and help patients manage it.
This fact sheet provides a general introduction to the stress that people may experience as they cope with cancer. More detailed information about specific psychological conditions related to stress can be found in the Related Resources and Selected References at the end of this fact sheet.
How does the body respond during stress?
The body responds to physical, mental, or emotional pressure by releasing stress hormones (such as epinephrine and norepinephrine) that increase blood pressure, speed heart rate, and raise blood sugar levels. These changes help a person act with greater strength and speed to escape a perceived threat.
Research has shown that people who experience intense and long-term (i.e., chronic) stress can have digestive problems, fertility problems, urinary problems, and a weakened immune system. People who experience chronic stress are also more prone to viral infections such as the flu or common cold and to have headaches, sleep trouble, depression, and anxiety.
Can psychological stress cause cancer?
Although stress can cause a number of physical health problems, the evidence that it can cause cancer is weak. Some studies have indicated a link between various psychological factors and an increased risk of developing cancer, but others have not.
Apparent links between psychological stress and cancer could arise in several ways. For example, people under stress may develop certain behaviors, such as smoking, overeating, or drinking alcohol, which increase a person’s risk for cancer. Or someone who has a relative with cancer may have a higher risk for cancer because of a shared
inherited risk factor, not because of the stress induced by the family member’s diagnosis.
How does psychological stress affect people who have cancer?
People who have cancer may find the physical, emotional, and social effects of the disease to be stressful. Those who attempt to manage their stress with risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking alcohol or who become more sedentary may have a poorer quality of life after cancer treatment. In contrast, people who are able to use effective coping strategies to deal with stress, such as relaxation and stress management techniques, have been shown to have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and symptoms related to the cancer and its treatment. However, there is no evidence that successful management of psychological stress improves cancer survival.
Although there is still no strong evidence that stress directly affects cancer outcomes, some data do suggest that patients can develop a sense of helplessness or hopelessness when stress becomes overwhelming. This response is associated with higher rates of death, although the mechanism for this outcome is unclear. It may be that people who feel helpless or hopeless do not seek treatment when they become ill, give up prematurely on or fail to adhere to potentially helpful therapy, engage in risky behaviors such as drug use, or do not maintain a healthy lifestyle, resulting in premature death.
How can people who have cancer learn to cope with psychological stress?
Emotional and social support can help patients learn to cope with psychological stress. Such support can reduce levels of depression, anxiety, and disease- and treatment-related symptoms among patients. Approaches can include the following:
Training in relaxation, meditation, or stress management
Cancer education sessions
Social support in a group setting
Medications for depression or anxiety
More information about how cancer patients can cope with stress can be found in the PDQ® summaries listed in the Related Resources section at the end of this fact sheet.
Some expert organizations recommend that all cancer patients be screened for distress early in the course of treatment. A number also recommend re-screening at critical points along the course of care. Health care providers can use a variety of screening tools, such as a distress scale or questionnaire, to gauge whether cancer patients need help managing their emotions or with other practical concerns. Patients who show moderate to severe distress are typically referred to appropriate resources, such as a clinical health psychologist, social worker, chaplain, or psychiatrist.
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Sloan EK, Priceman SJ, Cox BF, et al. The sympathetic nervous system induces a metastatic switch in primary breast cancer. Cancer Research 2010;70(18):7042-7052.
This text may be reproduced or reused freely. Please credit the National Cancer Institute as the source.