Healthy Living

Is Lymphoma-related PTSD Possible?

Is Lymphoma-related PTSD Possible?

PTSD is something that one may not think of right away when thinking of chronic or life-threatening illnesses, but it should not be overlooked. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can affect all aspects of a person’s life and requires treatment by a specialist.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) version IV has recognized that it is possible for people to get PTSD from a medical diagnosis. In the new DSM V, cancer diagnosis is considered a traumatic event only when the diagnosis is sudden and severe. Lymphoma falls into this category and thus, health care providers and patients should be aware of the mental health implications of a diagnosis like this.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that can happen to people after they live through a traumatic event. These traumatic events can include injuries, illnesses, the death of a loved one as well as the threat of injury or illness. PTSD can cause many symptoms and issues such as nightmares, re-living the event, anxiety, and other symptoms. PTSD does not develop in everyone who lives through a traumatic event, and medical professionals are not entirely sure why some people get it and others do not.

Consequences of PTSD

People with PTSD experience a variety of symptoms at different levels of severity. Re-living the event can include things such as nightmares, flashbacks (“seeing” or feeling the trauma over and over again), and upsetting memories. People with PTSD may also feel “numb,” where they avoid people or places that for whatever reason may remind them of the trauma. They also might not feel like they are a part of the world in which they are living and may no longer engage in activities that they used to. Intense feelings are also a common symptom. People with PTSD may experience intense anger, sadness, fear, or worry, which can then affect their sleep. The symptoms may begin immediately after the traumatic incident, and if they last longer than a month can be classified as PTSD. Triggers can also amplify or set off PTSD symptoms. These are events or situations that remind the individual of the trauma and make them start experiencing symptoms. Untreated PTSD can persist for years after the traumatic incident.

The symptoms of PTSD can affect every aspect of that person’s life. It can result in changes in relationships with family and friends, and interfere with work and their social life. These symptoms can disappear and come back during stressful points in a person’s life. This can all lead to a poor quality of life for the individual.

Lymphoma and PTSD

A lymphoma diagnosis certainly qualifies as a traumatic event. People around the world fear cancer and the uncertainty and life changes that a cancer diagnosis brings. For cancer patients, PTSD can continue long after the patient has entered remission and is declared a survivor. In many cases a cancer survivor or patient may not meet all of the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. This does not mean, however, that the individual does not have PTSD symptoms that require treatment. People with PTSD symptoms following a cancer diagnosis may avoid cancer related experiences. This could negatively impact treatment and coping mechanisms. Additionally, PTSD as a result of a cancer diagnosis has been shown to cause people to fear the future and chance of cancer reoccurrence more than it does in other conditions. There is extensive evidence that a cancer diagnosis can have a negative impact on an individual’s ability to function and his/her quality of life.

New Research

One study aimed to look more at the long-term consequences of a cancer diagnosis in non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) survivors. This meant looking at the effects on survivors two years after diagnosis or beyond.
The results of the study showed that while most of the population that was sampled did not exhibit PTSD symptoms, they did have negative experiences as a result of their diagnosis that impacted their daily lives. Detachment and trouble with concentration and sleeping are all concerning symptoms that with or without a PTSD diagnosis require treatment and attention.
One lymphoma survivor describes her experience with PTSD symptoms following diagnosis. She starts by acknowledging that she has a various side effects as a result of her diagnosis. Some of these are from the chemo treatments while others are related to her mental health. “Radiant Racehli” as she calls herself in her column, is battling PTSD as a result of her lymphoma diagnosis. Yet, a cancer diagnosis was not the first time she experienced PTSD. At seventeen years old she was in a serious car accident that would leave her with PTSD symptoms. She sought help through therapy, hypnosis and was eventually able to mostly overcome the PTSD from the accident, but emphasizes that she is still not completely over it.

Cancer-related PTSD would prove harder to beat. In her column she goes into detail describing her current PTSD triggers that she has. She experiences her PTSD symptoms when doing the following:

  • Visiting her mother’s house and seeing the room that she recovered from Chemo in
  • Using hand sanitizer
  • When parts of her body become itchy
  • When she gets nauseous
  • Getting blood drawn
  • Smelling rubbing alcohol
  • Smelling the shampoo she used during treatment
  • Seeing Dasani water bottles
  • Vomiting
  • Getting a rash
  • When her back hurts
  • When she has chest pains
  • Swallowing pills
  • Walking into the infusion center
  • Having difficulty breathing
  • Walking outside of the Florida airport
  • Seeing red liquid
  • When it hurts to swallow
  • Eating or smelling foods that were around her during treatment

Radiant Racehli meets PTSD every day. Her PTSD triggers highlight just how difficult it can be for someone to escape PTSD. No wonder it can have such an impact on your daily life. She maintains positivity by saying that “she knows time and mindfulness will heal” her wound. She also emphasizes that for some people medication and therapy may be what is needed. It appears that she has come to a point of acceptance with her PTSD. She says that she does not think there will be a day that goes by where she does not think about the word “cancer,” but that this is ok. She is working hard towards making the best of her memories and each moment.

Her column can offer hope to others who are experiencing PTSD as a result of a cancer diagnosis. She reminds readers that these are just memories and that they are triggered because of the traumatic experience. She has challenged herself to create new and more positive associations with these memories in order to help her get through the touch symptoms. Radiant Racehli leaves a message for other people who may be suffering from the long term mental health effects of a cancer diagnosis. She reminds readers that while it’s hard, she is persevering and continuing to look for new ways to get through her struggles.

If you are fighting cancer-related PTSD or some of its symptoms, seek professional help. By discussing your symptoms and feelings with a trusted health care provider you can come up with a treatment plan that suits your needs. You have been fighting through a diagnosis that scares most of the world. You are absolutely strong enough to fight through the memories. Just make sure you’re not doing it alone.