When a person is diagnosed with cancer, it seems everyone is focused, and rightly so, on that person’s physical well-being: treatments, side effects, doctor’s visits, tests. But we know there are other parts of life affected by cancer: self-image, work, family, friendships, and your approach to living. Our Oncology support team understands these complex issues raised by cancer. More importantly, an oncology social worker knows that finding ways to cope with these concerns brings an enormous sense of relief to both the person with cancer and their loved ones.
Local Oncology Support Teams
Texas Care Oncology Support Staff are headed by licensed professionals who counsel people affected by cancer, providing emotional support and helping people access practical assistance.
Texas Care can provide individual counseling, case management, support groups, locate services that help with home care or transportation and guide people through the process of applying for Social Security disability or other forms of assistance. Texas Care's staff are available to help face-to-face, online or on the telephone.
Coping with Practical Concerns
Managing cancer treatments and costs can be overwhelming. There are appointments to keep and bills to pay, as well as paperwork to manage. An oncology social worker can help you find resources and financial assistance based on your diagnosis.
Better understanding of your diagnosis and treatment. An oncology social worker can help you understand your diagnosis and treatment plans. Your health care team can involve many members and an oncology social worker can also help you improve communication with your team.
Financial assistance and co-pay assistance. Having health insurance doesn’t guarantee that you can afford treatment. Even with insurance coverage, out-of-pocket expenses such as co-pays for medications can add up very quickly. An oncology social worker can help people navigate resources based on individual needs. Texas Care provides limited co-pay assistance and financial assistance for those who qualify.
Providing Emotional Support
A cancer diagnosis turns a person’s world upside down emotionally, physically, practically and financially. When it comes to changes in our bodies, no matter what age, those changes will challenge how we see ourselves and our perception of how others see us. We can help you cope with this “new normal” and overcome barriers to accessing care.
Counseling. Feeling stressed or anxious while coping with cancer is common. You may also experience your body reacting differently to certain foods or feel tired more often. Counseling provides a safe space to voice any concerns to better cope with these changes. Individual counseling from Texas Care is available for residents of Texas.
Case Management. After a diagnosis of cancer, it can be overwhelming to search for the assistance you need. With telephone case management from Texas Care, our staff will work with you to identify your needs and help you find the best resources to address them. Case management is available nationally.
Support groups. Building a support network can lessen the isolation that often comes with a cancer diagnosis. A support group is a unique opportunity to connect with others impact by cancer. Texas Care provides support groups online, over the phone and face-to-face. We offer multiple support groups each year for specific cancer diagnoses, caregivers and the bereaved that are password-protected.
Community programs. Texas Care offers virtual, interactive programming to engage clients, families and loved ones affected by cancer across the country. In person community programming is also available in the state of Texas.
The behavioral health program at Texas Care Center is designed to support you before, during and after cancer treatment.
Behavioral health, an integral part of whole-person care, recognizes the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social and behavioral factors may directly affect a patient’s physical health. Our licensed mental health and allied professionals offer caring relationships and therapeutic practices and techniques to help you and your caregivers respond to a cancer diagnosis and treatment regimen in empowering and stress-reducing ways, so you are better able to improve your health, relationships and overall well-being.
How does pain affect cancer patients?
While some cancer types are inherently painful, regardless of stage, many patients fighting advanced cancers may experience pain caused by tumors rubbing against organs, nerves or bones. Tests and treatments may also cause pain, or compound it by prompting side effects, such as nausea, vomiting, anemia, lymphedema, fatigue, fever, chills and mouth sores.
While a certain amount of pain may be expected, several therapies may be used to alleviate, manage and reduce suffering.
Anxiety and stress
How does anxiety and stress affect cancer patients?
In a health care environment, patients often feel scared, overwhelmed and confused by the abundance of information and clinical jargon they have to digest. With a cancer diagnosis, and the unsettling implications that come with it, the emotions may be even more pronounced. Stress and anxiety are common side effects of cancer and its treatment. You may feel uncertain over your future, fearful of the unknown or stressed about how your cancer is impacting your ability to work, care for your family, travel or function on a daily basis. These feelings may contribute to other complications, including:
- Changes in appetite
- Stomach or bowel problems
- Muscle aches/tension
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sexual dysfunction
- Difficulty concentrating
It is normal to feel anxious and stressed when confronted with a cancer diagnosis. But when those feelings compound your health issues, integrative therapies may offer welcome relief in alleviating the symptoms, so you can focus on healing.
How likely are cancer patients to experience anxiety and stress?
Several clinically significant studies have supported the belief that cancer patients are more apt to suffer from anxiety, stress, depression and other emotional challenges. A large study published in October 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, for example, found that one in three of the 2,100 patients in cancer care centers in Germany experienced a clinically defined emotional disorder such as anxiety, depression or mood or adjustment disorder—a higher prevalence than in the general population. A 2013 study published in the Lancet medical journal, evaluating 43 studies involving 51,381 cancer patients, found that long-term cancer survivors are more likely to experience anxiety than their spouses or the general population.
How does texas care help?
A number of supportive care services may help alleviate cancer-related anxiety and stress, often by addressing the physical problems that cause it or through relaxation techniques. These include:
One way to manage anxiety and stress is to acknowledge it, and address it head-on. Our behavioral health team is available to all patients at Texas Care Center, no matter where they are in their cancer journey, offering a number of therapeutic options to manage anxiety, including:
- Talk therapy through individual, couple or family counseling to help patients better understand the connection between their physical health and their emotional well-being and explore self-care options
- Breathing and relaxation techniques that may help lower the heart rate and promote a sense of calm
- HeartMath® practices, designed to reduce stress and promote mental and emotional balance
- Laughter therapy, which taps the healing power of laughter as a natural diversion that has been shown to decrease stress-related hormones, among other benefits
How do intimacy and relationship challenges affect cancer patients?
The stress of living with cancer may have a negative effect on a patient's interest in sex and capacity for emotional intimacy. Every patient’s experience is different. For some, a healthy sex life may be difficult to maintain because of the physical and emotional impacts of treatment. While intimacy and sex are closely related, many patients may find that during treatment and recovery, they put more emphasis on the emotional connection rather than physical intimacy in a relationship.
Men and women also deal with intimacy and relationship struggles differently and experience sometimes widely varying challenges. For some women, cancer and its treatments may cause a range of symptoms that interfere with sexual function and physical intimacy, including:
- Body image issues
- Pain during intercourse
- Loss of libido (sex drive)
- Vaginal dryness
- Loss of sexual function or sensation
- Emotional issues (e.g., anxiety, depression and guilt)
- Onset of menopause
Breast cancer surgery may also result in lost physical sensation, possibly limiting pleasure. Some cancer treatments may also trigger menopause, prompting hot flashes, mood swings, loss in libido and vaginal dryness or tightness. Some pelvic surgeries, like those to remove the uterus, ovaries or bladder, may reduce vaginal lubrication and sensation, contribute to loss of vaginal elasticity, and cause pain. Radiation therapy to the pelvic area can cause changes in the vaginal lining, making intercourse painful.
Some men experience their own challenges. Surgeries for prostate, bladder and colorectal cancers, for example, can damage nerves and blood vessels, causing erectile dysfunction, and problems with ejaculation and orgasm. Radiation therapy to the pelvis can damage the arteries that bring blood to the penis, resulting in incontinence or difficulty getting and keeping an erection. Chemotherapy may interfere with testosterone production in the testicle, which an impact sexual function. Hormone therapy for prostate cancer may decrease a man’s hormone levels, reducing the ability to achieve an erection or orgasm.
Symptoms vary from patient to patient but may include:
- Erectile dysfunction, or difficulty getting or keeping an erection
- Loss of libido (sex drive)
- Concerns about sexual performance
- Body image issues
- Emotional issues (e.g., anxiety, depression, guilt)
Behavioral health therapists at Texas Care offer counseling to help patients address fears or concerns about intimacy and resuming sexual activity after cancer treatment. In the context of a counseling relationship, patients may explore and understand their feelings, discuss ways to deal with loss of sexual function and changes in the body, discover how their mind and body can work together to help their healing, and learn healthy communication and coping strategies. For patients experiencing body image issues involving hair loss, visible tumors, scars or lost body parts, talking about these issues with a professional may help patients recapture their sense of self and inner confidence.
How does depression affect cancer patients?
Depression is a common but serious medical condition characterized by feelings of sadness, emptiness, irritability, restlessness or being tired; weight loss or gain; decreased interest in activities; chronic pain that does not get better with treatment. Sometimes, depression may lead to suicidal thoughts. Depression is common among cancer patients who may be struggling with fear about their mortality, finances and even legal issues.
The behavioral health team at Texas Care Center is staffed by professionals trained to work with cancer patients. They understand how debilitating and disruptive depression may be, and the implications it may have on treatment, healing and recovery. These therapists support patients by guiding them through disappointments; feelings of loss or hopelessness; challenges or big decisions that may accompany a life-threatening illness. They may also refer patients to a psychiatrist for more in-depth treatment.
*Texas Care, Post-Intensive-Care Syndrome, and COVID-19
Advances in critical care medicine have resulted in a growing population of survivors of critical illness. Many survivors experience impairment in cognition, mental health, and physical function, known as post-intensive care syndrome (PICS). The mental health of family members may also be adversely affected, which is termed PICS-Family (PICS-F).
The ICU can be a sad, stressful, and emotionally intense place. Tubes, alarms, and electronic monitoring devices abound, and heavily sedated—possibly confused—patients grapple with being on the brink
Even when patients survive the ICU, their challenges are not over. 2015 study from Johns Hopkins Hospital found that nearly 25 percent of ICU patients suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Hospitals and health systems—including Brigham and Women's, Beth Israel Deaconess, and Johns Hopkins—have adopted a variety of strategies to ease the ICU experience, such as by ensuring staff introduce themselves to patients and caregivers.
Coronavirus patients who require treatment in an intensive care unit could suffer from post-intensive care syndrome (PICS), experts say.
In general, patients who require intensive care are at risk for mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression when their treatment is over, according to Weill Cornell Medicine at Cornell University. They also can suffer cognitive impairment and physical limitations.
These patients include those who experience severe respiratory failure requiring them to be put on a ventilator, along with those diagnosed with septic shock, among other things.
Patients may be physically weak and experience a type of post-traumatic stress. The exact cause of post-intensive care syndrome is unclear. It could be the result of patients not getting enough oxygen or blood to the brain. Or, it could be sedative medications — critical for what physicians must do in acute care, but with potentially long-lasting ramifications.
Because PICS represents a range of disorders, no single treatment is likely to adequately address all the symptoms associated with the syndrome. Care can be sought from a variety of professionals, including primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, physical and occupational therapists, clinical social workers trained in medical social work, psychiatrists and psychologists. In addition, there is a growing trend of dedicated follow-up clinics for ICU patients that show some promise for recognizing and triaging patients. They often offer support groups for patients and families affected by PICS and PICS-F.
A few signs we consider are signs and symptoms associated with PICS or PICS-F including muscle weakness, fatigue, trouble with daily activities, memory or thinking problems, anxiety and depression, or nightmares and unwanted memories after leaving the ICU. the family plays a strong role in this. If these symptoms are recognized, consulting a primary care doctor or other caregiver can help. Many other specialists can be enlisted to help patients recover including occupational or physical therapists, psychiatrists, psychiatrists or psychologists, and speech therapists. Patients and families who have questions or concerns regarding PICS or PICS-F should refer to their local hospital and ICU for available resources.
For more information on PICS and/or other Texas Care services, feel free to call 888-98TODAY and an Intake Coordinator will be happy to take your call and direct you to the appropriate department. Visit our FAQ page for more information on how Telehealth, Telemedicine, and TeleBehavioral Health can work for you.