How to Cope with Post-traumatic Stress

A cancer diagnosis can be a traumatic experience. Many people have feelings of fear, anxiety and helplessness, which can lead to post-traumatic stress. Studies show more than 35 percent of cancer survivors experience feelings of PTS.

PTS is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) experienced by military veterans and survivors of natural disasters or life-threatening events.
 
While the symptoms of PTS and PTSD are similar, cancer-related PTS is often less severe and can occur at any time, including during or long after treatment.

If you find yourself having difficulty coping post-treatment, it’s important to know this is normal and that you are not alone.

Triggers of PTS can include:

  • Diagnosis of cancer
  • Undergoing surgery
  • Radiation or chemotherapy
  • Hospitalizations
  • Waiting for test or scan results
  • Coming back to your doctor’s office for follow-up visits
  • Cancer recurrence

Do I need help? Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel irritable?
  • Am I easily distracted or unable to think clearly?
  • Do I have trouble sleeping?
  • Am I avoiding people or places?
  • Do I have repeated, scary thoughts?
  • Have I lost interest in activities I once enjoyed?
  • Am I feeling detached from reality?
     
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your survivorship health care team about how you’ve been feeling. Your doctor can refer you to additional support services such as psychiatry and psychology. You can also reach a social worker by calling the Division of Clinical Social Work at 626-256-4673, ext. 82282.
 
At City of Hope, treatment options for PTS include relaxation training, meditation and support groups to help relieve distress. Individual or group therapy can also help you learn to cope with stress and become less sensitive to PTS triggers.

More information, education and support for PTS are available in the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center. Visit the Supportive Services Events Calendar for class descriptions, dates and to reserve your spots.
 

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