Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer as well as the third leading cause for cancer-related deaths for both men and women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. While medical advancements in colon cancer treatments have been promising, care outside of the hospital may be equally important for your well-being. Colon cancer survivors weigh in on how talking about colorectal cancer can help you and your family and friends through this difficult time.
A cancer diagnosis can be an extremely emotional experience for the person receiving the news and their loved ones. In addition to pain and fatigue, research suggests depression is one of the most common side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. It’s estimated that about 20 to 40 percent of cancer patients will become depressed.
Talking about your feelings with your loved ones or seeking professional help can provide relief. It’s also important for your cancer team to know if you’re experiencing depression. Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant, make adjustments to your cancer treatment, or recommend other options that may help.
Talking openly about colon cancer with those close to you can help them cope as well. Shock, sadness, and fear are common for everyone involved as you prepare for a major disruption in your lives. Group therapy may be a good way to encourage your loved ones to express their feelings.
As Dorothy O’Shea, an accountant from Massachusetts and a former colorectal cancer patient, emphasizes, cancer often affects more than the person diagnosed. However, talking about it can make it less intimidating for everyone.
“Cancer is still very scary to many people. I remember telling people that I had early stage colon cancer, and they would get a look of pity on their face and tell me how sorry they were,” says O’Shea, who was diagnosed with early stage colon cancer after a routine screening. “In return, I told them that it was a good thing. My cancer was found at its earliest, most treatable stage. People need to realize that the more we talk about cancer, the less scary it becomes.”
Help with daily tasks
Cancer may disruptive your normal daily routines as you go to doctors’ appointments, get treatments, and adjust to the symptoms and side effects of cancer and your medications. Fatigue and pain can make it hard to complete even the simplest daily tasks like cooking or running errands. But in order to get help — whether it’s from your cancer team or your loved ones — you must feel comfortable asking for and accepting it.
“Most often, support was primarily from my sister. She often took me to appointments and listened to me cry about my crazy body,” says Anna Renault, a writer who has survived nine separate bouts with cancer, including colon cancer.
“Cancer impacts everyone — the patient, their family, extended family, caregivers, community — sometimes in a very negative way. [There may be] a fear of ‘catching it’ or fear of not knowing what to say. ... Or it can impact in a positive way, by helping others to understand what is happening to the patient and family, like the physical toll it takes on a body, one’s job, one’s daily quality of life, and of course the financial burdens it creates. If we don't talk, no one knows, no one understands, and many assume the wrong things.”
As previously mentioned, cancer can cause financial strains for you and those supporting you. In addition to attending doctor’s appointments and treatments, you may have to take time off work. This can burden you and add extra stress to your life. Asking for financial help is uncomfortable for many people. But talking about your colon cancer may open doors to the assistance you need during a difficult time.
Renault shares her experience with receiving financial help from friends and community groups during her multiple bouts with cancer:
“While I worked full time, I often reached out to co-workers for support, medical info, a few food baskets, and assistance with grocery shopping,” she says. “In 2005, primary support for shopping, cleaning, and other things came from a women’s networking group as well as a Maryland nonprofit that provides for some nonmedical financial assistance. This group came to my aid again in 2009 and 2010, even making a car insurance payment in 2010 to ensure I kept my car on the road!”
Colon cancer is a difficult subject to talk about and something you may feel like ignoring. However, talking about it is an important part of your treatment plan. After having honest conversations with your doctors, family members, friends, and even neighbors, you’ll likely feel a sense of ease and relief.