It is difficult to answer this question because a certain amount of stress is “normal” (expected) when you are diagnosed with cancer. But specific signs and symptoms may serve as warning signals that your distress levels have exceeded normal levels and are becoming serious. These include:
- Feeling extremely overwhelmed, similar to a panic state
- Being inundated with a sense of dread
- Experiencing so much sadness that you think it is impossible to undergo treatment
- Feeling extraordinarily angry and irritable
- Feeling powerless to cope with fatigue, pain and nausea
- Fuzzy thinking, poor concentration and unexpected memory problems
- Finding it difficult to make decisions even about little things
- Experiencing despair and hopelessness – thinking what’s the point in continuing?
- Thinking all the time about the cancer and/or death
- Problems such as difficulty in sleeping or waking early (getting less than 4 hours of sleep)
- Loss of appetite (reduced appetite or no appetite) for some weeks
- Family problems and conflicts that appear impossible to resolve
- Rethinking your religious beliefs and faith that may have comforted you earlier
- Feeling useless and worthless
At times, certain incidents from the past can contribute to the distress levels being experienced by you and your family. It may require you to get help more urgently. Here are some examples:
- Death of a relative who have had cancer
- A critical illness or death of one of your loved one
- A history of depression or suicidal thought and tendencies
- Painful memories from the past that keep coming back as panic attacks or nightmares
In case any of these experiences apply to you or a member of the family, talk to your nurse or doctor. You or the member of the family may require help to deal with the distress.
Nowadays, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are well aware that emotional distress is a part of cancer, and that it must be treated alongside the physical signs and symptoms of cancer. Most of the renowned cancer treatment centers have started asking each and every patient about their distress.