(HealthNewsDigest.com) – Every day, nearly 400 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in Australia. As a major cause of illness and a leading cause of death, many of us, sadly, also know someone with cancer.
But understanding what cancer survivors may go through is less well-known, especially when it comes to cognitive side-effects such as ‘cancer-brain’, a condition that can severely decrease memory, processing, decision-making, and attention.
Ahead of World Health Day on 7 April 2021, it’s a timely reminder for us all.
“A person’s ability to think is vital – it’s an essential part of who they are and how they understand and interact with the world – but for a cancer survivor, this ability is often stripped away, leaving them feeling cognitively deficit,” Coro says.
“Such cognitive declines can present as ‘fogginess’, losing your train of thought, or even an inability to follow a conversation as quicky as they once could, making day-to-day living challenging.
“In this research we looked at the experiences of ‘cancer-brain’ for survivors and what it meant to them, finding that the emotional impact consequences significantly impacted their sense of identity.
“Some survivors reported that they felt worried and uncertain, and that they no longer felt that they fitted in. This was particularly prominent when engaging in conversations where they felt like they couldn’t keep up and that people got frustrated with a perceived lack of attention.
“Others said that they felt guilt, sadness, anger and frustration about their changed cognition.
“Most survivors revealed how support and understanding from friends, family and people in the workplace were pivotal in coping with these changes. Concerningly though, several survivors voiced instances where flippant responses from both medical practitioners and work colleagues – about how they should be ‘lucky to be alive’ – had left them feeling dismissed and invisible.”
Assoc Prof Hutchinson says it’s important for people to have empathy for cancer survivors, not only because of their condition and diagnosis, but also because of the long-lasting impacts of cancer on cognition.
“For most cancer survivors, ‘cancer-brain’ tends to improve over time, however, greater awareness of the condition is needed,” Assoc Prof Hutchinson says.
“While there is no single approach to supporting someone with ‘cancer-brain’, survivors say that a little patience, compassion, and validation from others can go a long way – you never know, you could just be changing someone’s life for the better.”