Can a Cancer Diagnosis Cause PTSD?

Hello lovely you!

The past few weeks we’ve been talking about stress: the good, the bad and the extremely ugly of it. We’ve talked about the fact that stress can wear us down, negatively impact our immune system and allow us to get sick, and sometimes very sick.

So not only can stress cause our bodies to develop cancer, but a diagnosis can give us even more stress. In fact for most people, a diagnosis of cancer will be the biggest stress they ever face.

A soldier develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after being in a war. I can tell you from personal experience, being diagnosed with cancer, facing your own mortality for the first time and spending weeks and/or months receiving physically grueling treatments while fighting for your life… that is war!

Research Finds 1 in 5 Cancer Patients Develops PTSD

Not only has recent research found so many cancer patients develop PTSD, they found that survivors can still experience PTSD years after beating it.

Here’s a quote from Dr. Fremonta Meyer, a psychiatrist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and co-author of a recent study: “This underscores the importance of building better programs for longer-term support for cancer patients. Otherwise, we’ll miss people who are really continuing to suffer emotionally.”

Halleluiah! Doctors are finally beginning to recognize just how powerful emotions are when it comes to our health. PTSD will only undermine a patient’s recovery, so it’s important for cancer teams to treat the whole patient, physically, mentally and emotionally.

I read some other comments from doctors regarding this PTSD study. One of them, Dr. Gary H. Lyman, co-director of the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research has said, “We have just presumed that once the patient passes that acute phase, which may go for six months on average, that their symptoms will abate. So we stop asking the question.”

I think he means doctors stop asking us ‘how we’re doing’ because, hey, we’re still alive so what do we have to complain about?

Dr. Alan Valentine, chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston was refreshingly honest in his comments about the study:

“Do we do as well as we should in following up on anxiety and depression? Probably not. We’re probably missing a bunch of people.”

So there is hope that more and more doctors will begin to pay attention and actually care what is going on psychologically and emotionally with their patients during treatments.

In the meantime, if you are battling cancer and dealing with PTSD at the same time, or you are a cancer survivor but are having a hard time moving on, what can you do?

Keep Reading to Find Out

Before we get to some of the ways you can manage your PTSD, let’s talk about some of the symptoms of it, because it’s important to recognize whether you’re merely a little anxious with your diagnosis and treatment plan, or whether you have full-on post traumatic stress disorder.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of PTSD:


It’s common for PTSD sufferers to have disruptive sleep, punctuated by horrible nightmares. These nightmares aren’t sporadic but usually occur night after night.

Avoiding Triggering Situations

The day you heard your doctor say those horrifying words “you have cancer” was mostly likely the most traumatic day of your life. You may now wish to avoid your doctor’s office because just being there takes you back to the heart-pounding cold-sweat of that day. This is bad, because PTSD can cause patients to miss important medical appointments.


When we are on edge and emotionally fragile, it’s hard to be around other people. It is not uncommon for cancer patients who are suffering with PTSD to isolate themselves from their friends and loved ones.


It’s a miracle some of us don’t experience depression during our treatment and recovery. Facing your own mortality at any age has a tendency to squash your spirits!!

How to manage Your PTSD so You Can Get well and Stay Well

Talk with Someone on Your Team

It’s important that you share what’s going on with someone on your team. This could be your doctor, social worker or counselor. They will either be able to provide treatment or refer you to someone who can help.

A therapist who specializes in PTSD may try different approaches to help you. He or she may talk to you about cognitive processing therapy, eye movement desensitization, prolonged exposure therapy and/or incorporating antidepressant medications.

Please be really open and honest with your care team and therapist. It is important that you get help to manage your PTSD. In order for your body to heal, your mind and heart have to heal first!

Be Gentle with Yourself

Take the very best of care of yourself. Your health must come first. Your needs MUST come first right now.

Connect with Your Spirit

You will need YOU more than anyone during this time. There is a bigger YOU inside you, and this YOU is ultimately powerful. It… AKA YOU… have the power to heal your life. Get quiet. Go within. Become ONE with your inner power.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and take all of your stress away lovely you. I know exactly what you are feeling, because I have been where you are. I have faced the darkness, dealt with the stress and trauma of fighting cancer, and I am alive and here to help you and inspire you to have the strength and the love of self to keep going.

We are healing our lives one day at a time here at Prue’s Place.

With love & gratitude,