Treating cancer is more than about shrinking a tumour and health care is more than what’s delivered in a bottle. Behind every person with cancer is a mother, father, co-worker, student, caregiver or sibling with real lives, concerns, fears, commitments and responsibilities. Together we can transform the cancer experience, optimizing quality of living beyond just fighting the disease.
“I sometimes feel squeezed into a cancer box! It’s as if my energy, thoughts, even my breathing, gets all squeezed up by cancer, no one sees me – I am not cancer!”
This means more of us will face the shock of diagnosis, the question of where to turn, what to do and how to get support. It means that more of us must navigate through a complex care system, consider treatment options, cope with the anxiety of diagnosis and treatment, and try to overcome the everyday practical challenges associated with cancer.
Real care means helping people with cancer and their families to cope. It helps them get through—and get back to their “normal” life. Psychosocial interventions can also help to prevent cancer by supporting healthy lifestyles and regular screening.
Psychosocial oncology is a specialty in cancer care that is concerned with the whole person. It focuses on the social, psychological, emotional, spiritual and functional aspects of cancer through the entire cancer journey—from prevention through treatment and survivorship, and in some cases, bereavement.
Using approaches such as individual, family or group counseling, patient and family education and peer support—psychosocial oncology provides people with the tools and support they need to cope with the challenges of cancer.
The benefits are significant – Psychosocial support can reduce emotional and psychological stress and give people the support they need to complete their medical treatment. It can help individuals manage ongoing symptoms of the disease to improve their quality of life. It can help family caregivers avoid burnout.
Research shows it also saves money for the healthcare system—individuals receiving psychosocial care visit their family doctors and specialists less often. But, many Canadians don’t have access to appropriate psychosocial care. And research in this area is vastly underfunded.