When Radha Iyer (name changed), in her early 50s, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2008, her world crashed. She developed acute depression.
“I could not concentrate. I stopped going out. I thought that I will go mad,” said Iyer. However, she sensed some relief when she started going for psychological interventions where she learnt how to cope with her illness. “Now my depression is completely gone. I have also got back to my hobbies like doing yoga and satsang. I am feeling much better now,” added Iyer.
Shilpa Shevade’s (name changed) case is no different.
Coming to terms with breast cancer was not easy for Shevade who is from a middle-class family. “I started getting irritable and frustrated. I turned into an insomniac. The treatment took a toll on my appetite,” she said.
Like, Iyer, Shevade has also identified the positive changes that psychological therapy has brought to her life.
“Breast is an integral part of self image for a woman. Fear of loss of this self image leads to feelings like anxiety and depression,” said Dr Sudeep Gupta, Medical Oncologist with Tata Memorial Hospital.
Dr Bharat Shah, psychiatrist, Lilavati hospital, said the threat of death goes against the prime instinct of survival. “Their way of living gets disturbed. This leads to feeling miserable. In such circumstances not just the patient, but his entire family suffers,” said Dr Shah.
There has been almost 60% increase in the number of patients in the psychiatric unit at Tata Memorial Hospital in the last five years.
“The psychological counselling and support help the reduce the distress which come due to diagnosis and treatment. It helps patients in problem solving,” said Dr Jayita Deodhar, psychiatrist with Tata Memorial Hospital.
Patients also have to deal with social, financial and family issues. Psychological support may be needed for any stage in the cancer journey, from screening to palliation, with a particular need at crisis points.
Studies done abroad suggest that 25% of cancer patients may have depression at some stage of their cancer journey. It affects their compliance with the treatment. “Due to non-compliance they develop poorer pain control,” said Dr Deodhar.
Studies have also shown that some cancer types like breast, lung, pancreas, head and neck are more associated with depression. Dr Gupta accepts that even though there is no good proof that psychological support and therapy will improve the relapse or survival rates, it surely improves the quality of life.
Psychological support helps in treatment, as women get better adjusted to their diagnosis, leading to better compliance to the treatment and acceptance of the effects of the disease. This means fewer treatment interruptions.
“Even family support plays an important role . A lot of counselling also happens from an informal group, as some things can be tackled at the family level itself,” said Dr Gupta.