JEDDAH: Breast cancer will affect the lives of 2.3 million women worldwide in 2020 and killed 685,000 that year alone, according to the World Health Organization. It is a psychological toll on survivors and their families.
Breast cancer is the most common disease in Saudi Arabia, accounting for 31% of all cancer diagnoses. Mammography was introduced to the Kingdom in 2002, but 55% of cases are detected at a late stage, reducing the chances of recovery.
Several studies have shown that 20-30% of women diagnosed, treated, and declared free of local or regional invasive breast cancer will relapse. Therefore, there is a constant fear among survivors that the cancer will come back.
Finding appropriate coping strategies after diagnosis and during the course of cancer can have a direct impact on treatment outcome and survival.
Cancer has a profound impact on all areas of life and evokes a wide range of emotional and behavioral responses. In other words, there is no “one size fits all” approach to help patients cope.
Dr. Ali Zairi, a psychiatric consultant in Jeddah, told Arab News that the psychosocial adjustment of breast cancer patients during and after treatment is no different from those learning to live with a disability or terminally ill patients. said.
Indeed, the diagnosis is psychologically devastating, triggering feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, hopelessness, and hopelessness. Emotional distress, including depression, is common.
Zairi divides cancer patients into two broad categories. Patients who are better able to cope, accept the diagnosis and adapt to treatment, and patients who spend long periods of time in a denial phase, who usually suffer from intense emotional turmoil.
“The former are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, sleep disturbances, emotional instability, and mood disorders,” Dr. Zairi said. Actions like these help balance or minimize stress.”
The latter often do not cooperate with treatment, fail to follow up with doctors, refuse or reject risky lifestyles, and are prone to depression and anxiety, emotional turmoil, trouble sleeping, and eating disorders.
“Such patients are very likely to lose control of their anger because they cannot control their emotions. They tend to isolate themselves and become irritable and problematic in dealing with others. ”
For Elaf Baghdadi, a 36-year-old mother of two, it’s hard to believe that a history of lymphadenitis, an infection of one or more lymph nodes, could lead to more serious problems. I did.
“For most of my adult life, I have regularly checked my lymph nodes because they are susceptible to infection. I have only had one or two invasive interventions such as surgery. ’” she told Arab News.
“In 2019, I had a routine check-up, but the COVID-19 pandemic made everything clearer and delayed my return for the check-up.
“A few months ago I was very weak, felt very sick, felt cold all the time and had a fever at one point. Then I felt a series of strange symptoms and finally a lump appeared.”
Baghdadi, who thought it was another inflamed lymph node, sought medical attention over the summer. But this time, she asked for more tests and scans “just in case.” Within weeks, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It wasn’t an initial shock because I was constantly looking up terms in lab tests, trying to decipher the code in the test results just in case the worst happened.” I was ready to accept the
“She took her time, was sweet and kind. With all of us together, she provided apt explanations to calm not only me, but my family.”
Her calm demeanor allowed Baghdadi to face the challenges of diagnosis, biopsy, surgery and treatment.
“The first time I broke down was right after my mastectomy.
“I knew it was going to be difficult, I was ready, but I wasn’t fully prepared. One short poem shows how weak we are as human beings and how it affected my psyche.” reminded me.
“I can’t sugarcoat it. It’s a tough process. And in my case, something led me to: I’m going to start chemo by the end of the month. But I’m optimistic.” I have a positive outlook on life and it helps to have loved ones around me and keeping my hopes alive,” she said.
A few years ago, media personality-turned-writer Omaima Al-Thamami also began her battle with breast cancer, which was discovered late due to a misdiagnosis. I learned that good self-care is essential.
“In order to empower those around me and adopt the same approach I have to my own illness, I have to be strong, positive, content and well during my journey. I did,” she told Arab News.
In fact, friends, family, and colleagues should be mindful of the emotional environment they are providing cancer patients with. The first reaction for most people is sympathy, which can have complex magnifying effects on the patient.
Al-Tamami says cancer patients need no sympathy. Instead, we need honest and open conversations to tackle the disease head-on.
But for some, such candid conversation is easier said than done.
“My thoughts were dark and suicidal, I had no pain threshold and I was not okay,” Rajaa Al-Khateeb, a 55-year-old retired government sector worker, told Arab News.
Aware of her family history of breast cancer, Al-Khateeb has always scheduled annual mammograms and adapted to a healthier lifestyle to lower her risk. Nonetheless, it was a devastating shock when she was diagnosed.
“The shock was too much for me to bear,” she said. “I isolated myself, was angry, tired and confused all the time. The moment I saw light at the end of the tunnel, I crawled away.”
A year after her diagnosis, Al-Khateeb began to be accepted, surrounded by core people who educated herself and helped her find inner strength.
“I had to cut off nearly 80% of the people I knew,” she said. “People we once called close friends became strangers, and as our loved ones died of cancer, we found refuge in people who knew how to deal with cancer patients.
“Cancer is cruel. You can go bald, your complexion and features can disappear, you can barely recognize yourself, and your body can be riddled with chemo-induced toxins.
“Throughout it all, it’s the support of the people you care most about that will keep you going through the pain, pushing you harder to get out and see the world and get out of prison.”