Surviving cancer: The psychological challenges, from the Harvard Mental Health Letter

Surviving cancer is generally a cause for celebration. Yet some cancer survivors struggle with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These problems are often significant enough to cause suffering and disrupt lives, sometimes for years, reports the December 2008 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter.

The psychological terrain of survivorship has ups and downs. The most difficult times occur during transitions, particularly the period immediately following the completion of intensive (primary) cancer treatment. Individuals may feel they are losing the support system and structure provided by regular contact with an oncology team and fellow patients undergoing similar treatments. Friends and family may not fully appreciate what a loved one has gone through and expect that he or she will return to "normal." But cancer survivors typically feel more vulnerable, anxious, and uncertain about the future after treatment ends.

Cancer survivors contend with several ongoing psychosocial issues, notes Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter:

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