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Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Breast Cancer Patients

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Often, October is referred to as Pinktober because of the pink merchandise and breast cancer themed fundraisers. Many organizations that promote research are to raise awareness and reduce the number of women diagnosed each year. There are walks, runs, and fashion shows that raise money for research. Companies can also profit from the sale of merchandise with strategically placed pink ribbons.

The pink ribbons, pink clothing, make-up, or jewelry sold during October can often gloss over a real disease. The fundraisers meant to fund research can pay salaries instead of research. People can lose focus on what is essential: treating breast cancer patients and survivors. Due to all of this, many breast cancer survivors and patients can experience a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Definition of PTSD

The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as

“a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury.”

Cancer patients can struggle with intense, troubling thoughts and emotions regarding their cancer treatment. The onslaught of pink during October can lead to a re-emergence of ominous and heightened feelings such as depression or anger. Understanding that companies are profiting from their pain can cause cancer patients and survivors to be very resentful. 

A Survivor’s Story

Melissa

Melissa talks with other women in group therapy about her PTSD. She wants others to know PTSD is real, and therapy or group sessions helped her learn how to cope.

“Every year, October would roll around, and the world turned pink. Every time I see a pink ribbon on a piece of merchandise, I remember how brutal chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery is to a body. I wasn’t smiling, thin, able to walk or run like the media shows. Pain, nausea, and exhaustion hobbled me. My hair fell out; wigs were hot and uncomfortable while scarves and hats drew attention. My mastectomy was another story. Having parts of your body removed affected my mental well-being. 

I resented the merchandise that profited from breast cancer. Companies throw a pink ribbon on something and reap people’s benefits, thinking they are helping fund research. For some organizations, fundraisers are maddening because the money raised doesn’t go to research; it pays salaries. My cancer is not for sale. My experience is not a pretty pink ribbon and a smiling face. My cancer is harrowing, pain-filled, and the scars last forever.

October is a month I want to avoid because it brings up too many excruciating memories. Beginning in September, I would avoid people and places. I was acting out – my anger was uncontrollable; my fear of cancer coming back was overwhelming. I thought about killing myself. I blamed myself for having cancer. Throughout the year, seeing a pink ribbon throws me back to treatment.

I remember the pain. I knew I couldn’t cope with my thoughts and feelings alone anymore. My local treatment center held groups for survivors and patients. There was a group for breast cancer patients and survivors. At first, group sessions were too much for me. I couldn’t go to stores, visit with friends or family because I was angry and overwhelmed. Once I decided to begin therapy, I knew in-home treatment would be perfect. My therapist is working with my goal to cope with October. I feel more robust; I kept my appointments during quarantine using telemedicine. The way to keep going is to keep going to therapy.”

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder presents itself in several different ways. A diagnosis of PTSD includes significant disturbance or complications of daily living. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is exhibited by these symptoms or symptoms similar to those listed below for one or more months.

Intrusive thoughts or dreams are a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Often, the ideas are unexpected, undesirable, and troublesome. Other forms of invasive thoughts include

  • Disquieting dreams or nightmares
  • Increased emotional, physical, or mental distress to an object, person, or place that reminds a person of the traumatic event. There are times invasive thoughts feel real or have lingering effects on a person’s daily life.
  • Unpleasant events or situations can lead people to avoid places, people, situations, or activities that remind them of the traumatic event. The urge to stay home to avoid any uncomfortable situation can be treated if a person joins a support group or schedules an individual therapy appointment.
  • Blocking out or repressing negative thoughts and feelings, causing negative thoughts or assumptions about others. 
  • The risk of survivors’ guilt, complicated grief, low self-esteem, anger, shame, self-doubt, depression, or anxiety.
  • A feeling of detachment or decreased interest in activities that were once enjoyed.
  • Responses to situations or people such as irritability, eruptions of anger, fear, or anxiety are, at times, debilitating. An increased focus on surroundings, others, or situations is manifested through behaviors associated with fear and anxiety.
  • Paranoia or altered convictions about people or places.

Breast cancer survivors can experience post-traumatic stress disorder during the month of October because of the increased attention to breast cancer. The ads, shows, merchandise, and fundraisers remind them of a scary, painful, or fear-inducing event in their lives. Cancer takes away a person’s control, strips them of their perception of health, and leaves physical, emotional, and spiritual scars.

 

Patients and survivors of breast cancer can experience deep, distressing feelings during and after their treatment. Persistent thoughts of guilt, shame, fear, anger, and depression can create obstacles to their everyday activities. Feeling intense emotions when you see a pink ribbon, ads, or merchandise related to breast cancer doesn’t mean something is wrong with you, and PTSD isn’t something you have to hide. Achieve Concierge welcomes the opportunity to help you cope with PTSD. We offer group and individual sessions in-office, via TeleHealth, and in-home sessions. Please call us today at (858) 221-0344 to schedule an appointment.