(01/02/14) - You might not think of cancer survivors and their families as
high risk candidates for post traumatic stress disorder, but, according to
experts, they are. There are invisible scars left behind, especially after
The harsh reality of a life-threatening diagnosis can leave families and cancer patients living in intense fear. There can be an overwhelming sense of helplessness that can actually cause people to shut down, and avoid people or places that trigger bad memories.
When 12-year-old Sammy Bradly began falling asleep at baseball practice, he knew something was wrong, "I just, like, wasn't feeling the same. I didn't feel like me."
The diagnosis - AML Leukemia - devastated Sammy's mother, Annie, "Honestly I pretty much fell to my knees and blacked out."
Sammy says he went through a lot during six months of chemo, "I met a lot of people in the hospital and I was the only one to walk."
Especially devastating was losing his best friend Noxah, who also had cancer, "He's the only person I knew that would understand how I felt."
Now four years in remission, the experience is still fresh in Annie's memory, "I know that these guys don't know, but there's days where I can just start crying for no reason at all."
Intense fear still plagues her, "What do I do? We're OK. But are we OK? You know."
Dr. Anne Kazak says these traumatic stress symptoms are more common in parents than people know, "It might be bad dreams, nightmares; it might also just be that you're walking down the street and all of the sudden you are back in that moment."
One study of parents of cancer patients found all but one had post-traumatic stress, a disorder close to PTSD. PTSD affects about one-in-three parents.
Kazak's best advice is to focus on what you can control, "it's almost never helpful to worry too much in advance."
She also stresses finding support, "Sort of reflect on the fact that you are in a war, you know, against cancer."
It is a fight Sammy and his family accept, "It's just a huge part of who I am today."
There are things that parents can do to help with traumatic stress symptoms. Relaxation techniques such as visualization, deep breathing, yoga and meditation may be helpful.
There are some good resources for both healthcare professionals and parents online at www.healthcaretoolbox.org.
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