Importance of psychological treatment in people with cancer

Facing a cancer diagnosis is a vital challenge that affects all levels in the life of the patient and their closest relatives. Living with the torrent of emotions and sensations that the disease triggers requires, in many cases, specialized psychological care. However, as a study published by the AECC Cancer Observatory shows , we are not responding as well as we should to the emotional pain of people affected by cancer. C armen Yélamos, AECC coordinator of psycho-oncology, claims in this interview the role of the psychologist in the treatment of cancer and how it can help digest emotional distress. 

How to help a cancer patient?

Fear and anguish are habitual and inevitable. In many cases, there is an emotional blockage that makes us, as family members of the sick person, feel unable to address the situation. Is it normal not to know how to help? What is the best way to show our help?

Cancer affects both the patient and their closest family environment. Thus, when a family member has cancer, the whole family is affected. These are difficult times for everyone and it is relatively normal not to know how to help. There are no magic recipes, but you can find out about the illness, diagnosis and treatments that the sick person will receive, about the most common emotional reactions and the most frequent concerns. Try to behave naturally, without drama, trying to maintain a positive attitude and trying to transmit support and energy, especially at times when the patient may be weaker or discouraged.

The role of the family member in the oncological process

What does it take emotionally to care for a family member with cancer? 

The impact of the disease on the family will depend, on the one hand, on the relationship and the type of relationship that is maintained with the patient. Also of the type of cancer, of the treatments, of the age of each member of the family, of the available social support, of the personal resources that the relative has to face the situation … 

In any case, there are factors that will inevitably alter the rhythm of family life. Visits and accompaniments to the hospital, the reorganization of daily life due to tests or treatments, changes in vital priorities … This can be physically and emotionally exhausting for family members, who also suffer from fear of illness, sadness at the situation, the worries about their recovery and the future of the person they love and who is ill.

Family members may feel hopelessness and sadness, uncertainty and fear, anguish and anxiety about the future. In the study that we have presented on the occasion of February 4, World Cancer Day, the  AECC  shows that cancer and its treatments generate emotional distress and significantly affect the closest family environment. Family members have levels of distress and symptoms of anxiety and depression higher than those observed in the general population and even in the patients themselves.

Psychological support to the patient, what does it consist of? 

In many cases, stress, pain, uncertainty, etc. are also linked to job defenselessness, economic problems derived from the high costs of cancer treatments … Issues that only increase this state of stress. How can the professional help to reduce the anxiety levels generated by the disease?

When diagnosed with cancer, the psychology professional can help the patient to:

  • Assimilate the information.
  • Make reasoned decisions.
  • Optimize communication with the medical team.
  • Control symptoms of anxiety and sadness. Stress management training and assistance for emotional and functional recovery.
  • Improve communication and family support.
  • Guidance on hospitalization, surgical treatments, physical symptoms and psychological changes.

Once treatments are complete, a return to normal life may require psychological treatments. On the one hand, it is necessary to face the discomfort in the face of the lived experience and the sequelae derived from the disease process (neurocognitive, sexual disorders, lymphedema, neurotoxicity …), concerns and fears of recurrences, anxiety about revisions, etc. On the other hand, the recovery of social, work and recreational life will be faced.

What can help the communication of our loved one?

The way in which we relate to and communicate with the sick person is another issue that must be addressed with a professional. For example, certain comments and / or behaviors can increase the lack of communication or feelings of disbelief, sadness, anger or fear. What can help us to overcome obstacles in communication with our loved one?

Most of the family members suffer an emotional shock similar to that suffered by the patient, and it will take time to assume the situation. At the first moment of the illness, the family member may not know how to act. First of all you must know.

  • The important thing is that the patient is able to perceive the support of his environment. They generally find it less difficult to cope with the disease.
  • Sometimes it will be enough to let you know that you are there. At other times, you will be able to help with day-to-day tasks (making arrangements, taking care of the children …), listening to him or helping him make a decision. 


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