Mental Health & Emotional Well-Being
Your emotional well-being goes hand-in-hand with good physical health. Your state of mind is an important part of fighting kidney cancer.
As you experience cancer, you will encounter books and articles advocating a positive mental attitude, intimate and loving relationships, reduction of stress, imaging, meditation, and other relaxation techniques. The real message of these writings is that mental processes and states of mind can contribute to survival and healing in cancer patients. In short, good mental health goes hand-in-hand with good physical health.
There is a body of research on how psychological processes and the central nervous system interact with the immune system. Thought processes involve chemical communications among neurons in the brain and central nervous system. The immune system also communicates chemically with the central nervous system to perform a variety of functions.
Research indicates that stress can alter immune system function. In turn, immune system function can alter tumor growth and response. Disease and treatment are stressful, and this stress may also alter immune function. Stress reduction, imaging, and visualization techniques are thought to be useful in cancer treatment because of this linkage.
Cancer wellness is the promotion of health and general well-being in people with cancer and those close to them. Wellness operates at four levels: physical, functional, emotional, and social.
The physical condition of cancer dominates the other three levels. If you didn’t have a tumor and the disease, cancer wellness would not be an issue. The physical aspect of cancer presents itself with symptoms and possible side effects from treatment. Your physical condition can limit your ability to function normally in your work, recreation, and daily life. Your performance, from sleeping to household chores, may be influenced.
If functional performance is lessened, emotional distress, frustration, and loss of well-being may result. The spiritual side of your life may be affected and personality change may result. Sociability, intimacy, and family functioning may also be diminished. Stressful family conflicts may result as tension within the family builds. These are symptoms of emotional and social malaise, and can be eliminated or diminished through counseling.
Cancer patients typically experience three types of psychological difficulty: the “Damocles Syndrome” which refers to uncertainty about one’s health and the fear that cancer may return; the “Lazarus Syndrome” which refers to the difficulty patients have being treated normally as they re-enter the healthy, productive world; and the “Residual Stress Syndrome” which refers to the anxiety that comes from having had cancer. These are normal consequences of having cancer. In part, just as you may have a physical scar from surgery, you have a “mental scar” from your cancer experience.
If you or your family has unusual distress from an encounter with kidney cancer, you may wish to seek professional assistance. These services may be covered by your insurance. Your doctor can refer you to a mental health professional. Many cancer centers have psychologists and social workers who specialize in assisting cancer patients and their families. There is no shame in using these services. Many families do.
Support groups have also been found to be beneficial in reducing the anxiety levels of cancer patients and their caregivers. Patients and family members can attend groups together or join separate groups designed to meet their specific needs. Newly diagnosed patients and their supporters frequently obtain useful information and receive emotional support by talking to a cancer survivor who has undergone a similar type of treatment. Not surprisingly, research has found that patients who actively participate in a cancer support group survive longer than comparable patients who do not participate in such groups.
A person living with kidney cancer needs to be selective in choosing a group. Because the cancer is rare and recommended treatments are often different from those for other cancers, the kidney cancer patient may have difficulty obtaining needed information from other cancer survivors or relating to them. To accommodate the special needs of the kidney cancer patient, the Kidney Cancer Association conducts patient meetings at major cities throughout the country. In addition, the Association’s annual Patient Conference is a good place to meet many other survivors and their families and learn about new treatments and clinical trials. To obtain more immediate information, you may call the Association (1-800-850-9132) and ask to talk to another survivor or family member who has volunteered to talk to others.
Talking With Children About Cancer and Treatment
While this can be a very difficult topic, it’s important, to be honest, and up-front with children about cancer. Bringing children to an appointment so they can see “how things work” and meet the medical team can be very helpful as they try to understand your cancer diagnosis. By bringing children along on a medical visit, they will have the chance to share their feelings and ask questions. It may be necessary to take children out of school for the day, but the result can be very positive, helping them feel they are a part of things, rather than being left out. It also helps you and other family members remember to deal with the needs of children throughout the diagnosis and treatment process.
Finding Support Online
If you have a computer and access to the Internet, you may also participate in online support groups such as a message board or social network, such as Facebook®. An online message board allows individual participants to communicate with a group of people who share ideas and questions. New messages are posted throughout the day. The Kidney Cancer Association offers a message board where patients can share information, as well as a Facebook® Fan Page.
The Kidney Cancer Association also offers a live support feature that enables website visitors to directly contact the Association office and be put in touch with people who are knowledgeable about the treatment of kidney cancer. This service is available during office hours, Monday through Friday. You can also contact the Association office by calling 1-800-850-9132.
As always, be aware that not everything on the Internet comes from a reliable source. Consider carefully the credibility of the website before you draw any conclusions. The resources webpage of this site offers a number of reliable websites.
As a practical matter, if you don’t have a will, make one. If you already have one, review it with an attorney. If you don’t have an attorney, call the local chapter of the American Bar Association for assistance or contact your Legal Aid Society.
The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized your constitutional right to refuse medical care, including life support, even when such a refusal results in death. However, your right to die may be subject to state laws requiring evidence of your personal wishes and desires. Two types of legal documents can be used to express your wishes: the Healthcare Power of Attorney and the Living Will.
A Healthcare Power of Attorney is a broad document that delegates decision-making authority over your health care to another individual, usually a spouse or other close relative. The Healthcare Power of Attorney enables your designated agent to authorize hospitalization, personal care, and medical treatment, as well as to withhold or withdraw any medical treatment. For example, the Healthcare Power of Attorney can permit your agent to withdraw food and water or life support systems under certain conditions according to your wishes. It is helpful for the medical team to have a designated person with whom they can discuss specific issues if you are unable to do so as a result of your medical condition.
A Living Will is a simple document that gives instructions to your doctor and family about your desires should you become incapacitated and cannot express them at a later time. Through your Living Will, you can give instructions to your doctor and family about how you want to be treated while you are alive but unable to speak for yourself. For example, you may instruct your doctor to withdraw death-delaying treatment if you are in a “terminal” condition and death is imminent.
Seek the counsel of a professional attorney in drafting the necessary documents. By expressing your wishes clearly and forcefully, you can relieve your family and loved ones of very difficult decisions regarding your care. They will not wonder whether they have made correct decisions and they will have no anxiety or guilt. They will simply carry out your wishes as you specify them.
The Importance of Hope – and Positive Emotions
A kidney cancer diagnosis may be traumatic for both you and your family. Remember, though, that there is hope – new drugs and treatments are advancing rapidly, and the prognosis for kidney cancer patients is better today than it was just a few years ago. After your diagnosis, you will be presented with many tools to help in your recovery, ranging from surgery to therapeutic care. Among those tools, one of the most important is your own state of mind – don’t underestimate its power in bringing you back to good health.