During the COVID-19 pandemic patients with cancer may be experiencing mental health challenges such as increased anxiety or depression. The psycho-oncology team at the CU Cancer Center is providing tips that can help during these difficult times.
Hello my name is Emily Cox-Martin and I’m a clinical psychologist at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and today I’d like to talk to you about cancer and mental health particularly within the context of COVID-19. We know that a cancer diagnosis and its treatment can impact the emotional wellness of our patients as well as their friends and family members. This can occur throughout the cancer continuum from the day of diagnosis into extended survivorship. Often times we see symptoms of anxiety which may stem from uncertainty or worry around a cancer prognosis or its treatment course. This can also look like a fear of recurrence following active treatment. Depression is another common symptom that we see reported in our patients. Patients may be isolated or feel under supported by those around them. Oftentimes treatments can have side effects like pain or fatigue and these side effects might get in the way of the patient doing activities that they’re used to like going to work or playing with their grandchildren. It might get in the way of things that are meaningful for them.
We know that our patients are often immune compromised and over the age of 65, which does put them at risk for severe illness related to COVID-19. Additionally, at this time in Colorado we’re all being asked to stay home as much as we can and socially distance from others. These factors combined might actually exacerbate difficulties around symptoms of anxiety or depression that patients were already feeling.
I’d like to offer just a few tips today to help any patients who may be dealing with these difficult experiences. First of all, please keep in contact with your oncology team and your medical providers. Right now a lot of our teams are able to do their appointments virtually. Please check in with them see if this might be a good fit for you. Second, it’s important to stay in contact with your loved ones, with the people that matter, and that support you. Face-to-face get-togethers may not be the healthiest option right now. Try a phone call or even a video hangout. See if you can schedule these regularly with other people in your life. It might be good for them too. Next, our health behaviors are the cornerstone to our emotional wellness. This looks like regular physical activity, a healthy balanced diet, stress management, and good sleep hygiene. If you find that your anxiety or your mood are getting in the way of any of these health behaviors and you’d like to talk to somebody about it please reach out to our psychology clinic. Finally, I’d like to encourage you to be mindful of your emotions. At this time notice if you’re experiencing increases in depressed mood or feelings of anxiety. If you find that coping or managing these experiences is difficult for you right now we’re here to help support you again reach out to our psychology team.
In closing, if you do feel that you need to make an appointment with one of the psychologists at the University of Colorado Cancer Center you can give us a call at (720) 848-9266. You can also ask your oncology provider to make a referral for you. In addition to these one-on-one services we are also continuing to run a number of our support groups of virtually. These include support groups for both our patients and our caregivers.
Thank you for your time today. Be well.