There are many distressing factors about receiving a cancer diagnosis. It is only natural that a patient would experience psychological upset after finding out such challenging news.
This emotional disruption is also expected in those closest to the person diagnosed. It is difficult to take all the information in and recall it all at the right time.
From the moment your loved one discovers that they have a potentially life-threatening illness, it is intensely difficult to grasp. Even if it is not a diagnosis that is necessarily foreboding, grief will hit in all of its stages, and is a stressful journey that is extremely hard to comprehend and accept.
A basic understanding of what causes the mood swings can be very helpful when dealing with the behaviors that result from this journey.
Colon cancer treatments, as well as cancer itself, activate the immune system to release chemical messengers that signal the body to increase or decrease inflammation.
These chemical messengers (inflammatory cytokines) can enter the brain and affect many of the brain circuits and chemicals that are involved in depression, anxiety, fatigue, and impairment in memory and concentration.
Many chemotherapy medications have a direct impact on a person’s emotional and physical well-being. Common side effects of chemotherapy treatments include fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, sleep disruption, and many symptoms of depression and anxiety.
According to several studies, the most common negative emotional issues that are affecting your loved one are: lack of self-worth, fear of loss of temporality, and the inability to have hope. These thoughts lead to anxiety and depression, which result in unstable emotional behavior.
So, what on earth do you do after the initial shock has set in and treatment has commenced? How do you handle the adrenaline-inducing, emotional roller coaster that your loved one is going through?
Firstly, take a deep breath! Like a roller coaster, you can close your eyes and hold on for the scary parts, they will pass… but you can’t close your eyes and just hold on forever.
You need to think about what is actually at the core of the mood swings and do your best to manage them with as much kindness and calm that you can summon.
The fear and uncertainty that a cancer diagnosis brings about may trigger certain feelings, making them angry without even realizing it. Your spouse may snap for no “apparent” reason.
Many cancer survivors feel much rage and anguish because they took good care of themselves, lived healthy lifestyles but still got cancer. It is very unsettling to see a loved one go through this distress. Know that there is no “right” way to respond when your significant other is facing so much uncertainty.
It is very important to remember that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone’s emotions are valid; you and your spouse are allowed to grieve and feel everything that comes with this difficult journey.
Suppressed emotion can have a negative impact on recovery and may lead to depression, impairment to the immune system, sleep deprivation, high blood pressure, heart disease, suicidal thoughts, overeating, weight gain and many other ailments.
You and your spouse need to prioritize finding meaning in the illness to achieve emotional coherence. Finding meaning can be made easier by being in a positive emotional mindset of gratefulness, finding confidence in oneself and others, and looking forward to creating a new future, no matter what the timeline is for this.
I am not sure what your thoughts are regarding therapy, but many therapists recommend that when you or your loved one feel the anger or rage building within you, you should write down how you feel and how you want to respond.
It can calm you down, help you identify the triggers, clear your mind, and create a relationship between your thoughts, feelings and actions.
With time, you will recognize the triggers and you can create a plan to manage those emotions within you. Writing can also help you recognize issues that would go unnoticed, for example, what influences your emotions and subsequent behaviors.
It is important to then have open communication with your spouse once the heightened emotion has calmed; talk through difficult emotions together and allow it to strengthen your relationship, rather than isolate you from each other.
There are many other positive outlets to help your spouse deal with their emotions. Physical activity, meditation, coloring, housework, and many forms of therapy.
(group, one-on-one, community-based programs) are beneficial outlets that have proven to create a positive outlook in the majority of cancer patients that made the choice to prioritize these activities to help with their anxiety and depression.
Just as your physical health is vital to living a quality life, your mental health is just as important. There is no shame in asking for help.
Please reach out to a health professional if you, anyone in your family or your loved one are experiencing struggles that are beyond the normal stressors of going through cancer treatment, and they can help with coping strategies.
The above article is based on the content of, “An Emotional & Practical Guide to Supporting a Spouse with Colon Cancer”