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Addressing Cancer PTSD

June 27 is PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) Awareness Day. There’s a day for everything now. Donuts, llamas, sunglasses, flipping a coin day, etc.

Since going through cancer though, PTSD is more real to me, and I do think there needs to be more awareness, especially among newly diagnosed patients.

I had mostly heard about PTSD in the context of soldiers returning from war. According to, “PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury.”

Additionally, “People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.”

I wasn’t familiar with much of this until cancer.

The other night I was sifting through my bathroom drawers. Reorganizing some items and looking for a couple things. Then I uncovered the toiletry bag I took with me to chemo in the hospital. I froze. And then without thinking I opened it.

It was still packed with the toiletry items I would take with me: the mouth rinses, the toothpaste, and all the other little things that I had specifically taken for use in the hospital.

I began to throw up. And then I cried. I screamed. All of the emotions and memories of being tied down to a hospital bed by wires and IVs for five days straight. The flashbacks of relentless beeping of IV pumps and technician checks every few hours. The reminder that I thought I was going to die if I had to sit there one more day, hour, minute, receiving drugs that were literally killing every cell in my body.

Nelson threw the toiletry bag away. I calmed myself down and moved on.

I’ve had a few other triggers that bring everything back and temporarily break me.

I have a therapist and I am on medication. Some people aren’t able to have access to these resources which aren’t even very well advertised.

We must ensure that cancer patients are aware of, and have access to, resources to get support and care for their trauma. It’s not just a fight against cancer cells – it’s an incredible mental challenge to overcome and adapt so we can continue on, one day at a time.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


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