Breast cancer patient should not be afraid to face fears


Q. I was diagnosed with breast cancer several months ago. Everyone compliments me on my good attitude and my faith. In truth, I’m scared to death. How do I face my fears without losing face?

A. It is normal to feel fear and anxiety during cancer treatment. If you do not, you are blocking your feelings, which will likely cause you more difficulty over time.

According to the American Cancer Society, most people with cancer go through anxiety and depression. Many people begin to wonder what they did wrong, why is God punishing them, or are they being repaid for a sinful life. This illogical thinking leads to self-blame, self-hatred and depression. In reality, the reasons for breast cancer may be genetic, environmental or completely unknown. What we do know is that cancer is not a punishment. It is a disease.

Don’t be afraid to discuss your fears with those close to you. You probably have friends who have had cancer. If you do not, most hospitals and some churches offer support groups. Don’t feel you have to “save face” with your friends. Be honest with them. That is what we expect our friends to do. Truthfully, most people compliment you on your good attitude and faith because they don’t know what else to say.

Find a psychotherapist who has experience in treating cancer patients. Numerous research studies have shown that breast cancer patients’ stress levels are lowered considerably by relaxation exercises, mindfulness and other cognitive-behavioral techniques. Additionally, speak with your physician about prescribing an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.

As a 20-year breast cancer survivor, I now go months without a thought about it. You likely will, too. So wipe off the happy face and confront your fears.

Q. I work long hours and take care of my children. Sometimes I’m so tired I fall asleep at my desk even when I drink energy drinks all day. What are some healthier ways to fight fatigue?

A. Your first step should be to get a complete physical from your doctor. There could be several reasons for your fatigue. As psychologists, we want to eliminate the possibility of physical issues before we begin treating someone.

If you have no medical problems, my first suggestion is for you to get more sleep. Research studies indicate that most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep nightly to function to full capacity. You will probably find more time to rest if you turn off the television earlier, check social media less frequently, and assign chores to other family members.

There are lifestyle changes you can make during the day to avoid fatigue. According to a study by Robert Thayer, Ph.D., a professor at California State University, taking a brisk 10-minute walk can provide you with increased energy for up to two hours. Conversely, eating a candy bar will make you feel more alert initially, but you will have less energy an hour later. A lifestyle change you should make immediately is to avoid consuming energy drinks. According to Dr. Jonas Dormer, a cardiovascular radiologist, these products have been linked to life-threatening heart arrhythmias and an increase in blood pressure.

Other techniques to avoid feeling fatigued are to take short breaks more frequently. Find some exercises you can do in your office or even sitting in your chair. At home, try to take a 5- to 25-minute nap at least 6 hours before bedtime; however, napping closer to bedtime will likely interfere with your nightly sleep.

If you do not manage this problem, the results of your sleep deprivation could lead to weight gain, depression, irritability, slowing of cognitive abilities, hypertension and even heart disease. That list should frighten you enough to get yourself to bed a little sooner each night.

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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City. She currently teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. If you have questions, e-mail them to drnryburn@gmail.com. They will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential.