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Psycho-Oncology

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming; this is a disease that can have an impact on the patient's mental health, too. Seeking psychological assistance to cope with this stress is the best thing that a cancer patient can consider.

Overview

When people first hear their doctor say “It’s Cancer”, in most cases, we see their world come crashing down and questions such as “Why me?”, “What next?”, “What will happen to my family?”, “Will there be pain & suffering?”, “Will I become dependent or a burden?!”, “Is it worth it?!” and more flood them. There was an endless surge of emotion such as anger and anxiety, which can lead to helplessness, hopelessness and feelings of isolation and loneliness.
 
If you or your loved one is touched by cancer, we want you to know that all these reactions are normal and a lot of people in your situation react similarly. The intensity of their distress may vary but most individuals do experience these overwhelming emotions! So, you are not emotionally weak; it’s just your reaction to a situation and therefore, there is nothing right or wrong about it!
 
However, while it is normal to experience these overwhelming emotions, these emotions can be debilitating and therefore need to be handled properly. But how? Where? And, with whom? Often, when you feel like sharing your innermost thoughts, fears and emotions with your near and dear ones, you may hold back either because you feel you are burdening your family and friends with more problems, or you may find your loved ones telling you not to worry, to be brave, happy and positive and assuring that everything would be okay. And this may leave you even more frustrated, lonely and lost.
 
You get the feeling that no one understands you, and you are alone!
 
No, you are not alone. We are with you! HCG is very sensitive to your emotional needs and extends its helping hand through COPER: Centre of Psycho-oncology for Education and Research.

Psycho-Oncology Services at HCG

Psycho-oncology is a subspecialty of oncology that addresses the emotional issues and concerns of individuals and their families touched by cancer. The psycho-oncology team is a group of mental health specialists (psycho-oncologists & psychiatrists who specialise in cancer care) who are highly qualified, trained and empathetic. The team caters to the needs of adults, children and adolescents fighting cancer.
 
These compassionate and committed mental health specialists will guide and navigate you through the cancer journey. You can share your thoughts, feelings and emotions in the ambience of complete privacy and confidentiality. These specialists will not only listen to you but will also help you cope with your overwhelming situation.
 
The psycho-oncology service extends its help, by meeting your various psychological and emotional needs through well designed, scientific techniques, which are tailor-made to suit your emotional needs.
 
The services offered are as follows:
 
  • Distress Assessment and Evaluation
  • Individual Therapy
  • Marital Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Stress Management Techniques (Relaxation therapy, Guided Imagery etc)
  • De-addiction (Tobacco Cessation, Alcohol & other substance abuse)
  • End-of-life Care
  • Grief and Bereavement Counselling
  • Rehabilitation counselling: Breast Prosthesis (Artificial Breast), Wigs to deal with hair loss, Stoma care etc.
  • Brain Lab: Neurocognitive Assessment and Remediation

Frequently Asked Questions

To help you understand what the service of psycho-oncology is all about, we will take you through some frequently asked questions by people in a similar situation as yours.
 
1. Why does cancer bring distress and what are the causes of these emotional changes?
 
The emotional changes associated with cancer are due to various reasons and very often people going through cancer are unable to manage or control the changes caused by the disease, treatment, side-effects, altered roles, home situation etc.
 
Oftentimes, various myths and misconceptions about the disease and its treatment are a major source of emotional distress. For example, people believe that cancer is incurable or a deadly disease, and this obviously causes fear, dread, anxiety, depression etc., in people. But once they are made to understand that cancer, like any other disease, is treatable, it brings a lot of psychological relief to them, and they approach the treatment differently and in a more positive way.
 
In addition, emotional changes may be caused by:
 
  • Various chemicals released by the tumour
  • Disease or lesion in specific areas of the brain
  • Physical or Biochemical reasons: Electrolyte imbalance, infection, fatigue, poor sleep etc.
  • Drug-induced: steroids, some chemo agents etc.
  • Withdrawal of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances (abused drugs)
  • Pre-existing (previous) psychological or psychiatric problems
 
Therefore, it is important to understand the exact cause of emotional distress to plan timely and appropriate intervention or treatment to restore emotional well-being of the individual, and a qualified psycho-oncologist is the right person for this.
 
2. How do I know I am distressed?
 
Very often, people going through the cancer journey may experience some of the issues highlighted below, and if you are troubled by one or more of the following, it’s a good idea to seek psycho-oncology services at HCG Cancer Centre:
 
  • Anxiety
  • Fear of future
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Panic attacks (racing heartbeat, dryness of mouth etc.)
  • Difficulties dealing with symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, nausea & vomiting etc.
  • Difficulties dealing with medical procedures: MRI, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation etc.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack or loss of interest in work, daily functioning and life in general
  • Communication issues with family, friends etc.
  • Challenges balancing the demands of the illness, treatment and other adjustment issues
  • Altered body image and functioning (hair loss, loss of body part, etc)
  • Difficulties in decision making
  • Difficulty in concentration, memory and learning
  • Altered family roles and relationships
  • Feeling short-tempered and grouchy
  • Not being able to get certain thoughts out of your mind
  • Crying for long periods or many times every day
  • Thinking about hurting or harming yourself
  • Sleep problems: not being able to sleep, having nightmares, or sleeping too much.
  • Difficulties with sexuality or intimacy
 
These are common psychological issues experienced by cancer patients, and it is quite possible that what you are experiencing may not be reflected here. However, our specialists are trained and experienced in preserving mental health and instilling a sense of hope and confidence in cancer patients.
 
You can take prior appointments via call or online registration. On the date of your appointment, before your doctor sees you, the nurse notes your vitals, such as heart rate, blood pressure, pulse, temperature and pain. International bodies have now recommended that emotional well-being should be considered the 6th vital sign in cancer care. It is precisely for this reason, we, at HCG, screen all patients for emotional well-being. Our nurses at HCG (who are qualified and trained in psychosocial screening) will be using the distress thermometer to determine your emotional well-being. This will also give you an opportunity to share your concerns with her. She will then talk to your treating doctor and facilitate a meeting with the psycho-oncology team.
 
3. When do I seek the assistance of the psycho-oncology team?
 
From the time you discover your symptoms to the time your diagnosis is confirmed you may face a series of emotional challenges. After cancer diagnosis, new issues and concerns emerge: how to cope with cancer treatments, their side effects and post-treatment (Life after cancer), the next steps, etc.
Throughout the cancer journey things may seem overwhelming and out of control. Therefore, you should consider seeking the help of psycho-oncologists, who will hand-hold you and navigate you throughout this journey. They will enable you to deal with various emotional and adjustment issues and empower you with healthier coping skills and restore your emotional well-being.
 
It is also possible that you may be feeling you are coping well and in control. We all have the resilience to deal with various situations. However, even if you feel you are in control, it helps to know from a professional, (the psycho-oncologist) that you are coping fine and have the resilience to fight the disease.
 
4. Is the mind so important for my physical recovery?
 
With our motto - “Adding Life to Years”, we aim to enhance your quality of life. Quality of life is never complete without addressing the emotional elements of patients and their families. Oftentimes, we say “he or she had the will-to-live and made it happen”. Now, how does willpower translate into well-being?
 
Researchers in the field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) are trying to seek answers to this question by exploring the possible link between the mind and body. While the results are preliminary, there is growing evidence to indicate that your emotions could, indeed, impact your physical well-being by altering your neural and immune systems.
 
There is evidence to suggest that emotionally-distressed patients tend to tolerate treatment poorly, report more side effects, have compromised quality of life and compromised immune functions. Some studies have even shown that patients who are emotionally down have limited survival time as well.
    
Conversely, patients who seek professional psychological assistance for better coping mechanisms and a positive state of mind are known to tolerate the treatment better, have improved quality of life, show stronger immune functions and witness better treatment outcomes. Therefore, psychological well-being undoubtedly contributes to improved physical recovery.
 
5. I have a very good family and friends support. Besides, my doctors spend a lot of time with me and are very supportive. I am also a part of support groups for cancer patients. Do I still need psycho-oncology service?
 
Good family support and understanding doctors are very important in your recovery.
 
Psycho-oncology service is not a substitute for family, friends and medical support. It only complements and augments the emotional or psychological support you require to sail through this journey smoothly. Also, in support groups, the support you receive from other members who have gone through a similar experience undoubtedly contributes to your confidence. However, please be warned that all the experiences they may have gone through, need not ring true for you as an individual, because each person’s cancer experience is unique.
 
Therefore, support groups are not a substitute for professional assistance.
 
Oftentimes, your family and doctors may not be well-equipped to handle the various family, social, sexual, marital and neuro-cognitive issues you may be going through.
 
Just as your treating oncologist is a specialist in his area of medicine (which is important for your physical recovery), psycho-oncologists are mental health specialists in cancer care who foster your emotional well-being. As you now know, the cause of your emotional distress could be due to many reasons (as cited in question 1). Hence, you will need a mental health specialist in the area of cancer care to facilitate your emotional recovery.
 
6. Psycho-oncology, after all, is only counselling. How are you different from other Psychologists and Counsellors?
 
Psycho-oncology is not just counselling. There is a range of scientifically proven psychological intervention techniques used to restore the psychological and emotional well-being of individuals who are brushed with cancer.
 
Psycho-oncologists are psychologists and psychiatrists who are highly trained and specialised in the area of cancer care. As already stated, the expertise in the area of cancer is important to unravel the complex nature of the emotional and other psychological issues of patients, which only a trained and qualified psycho-oncologist can do.
 
Equally important, psycho-oncologists are an integral part of a multidisciplinary cancer care team. They work in close association with your treating doctor for a better understanding of your medical situation. Proper psychological intervention planning and feedback or inputs from the psycho-oncologists also enable your treating oncologists to understand you better and accordingly plan the medical intervention for you.
 
7. I read something about Brain Lab in the brochure. What is it, and who would benefit from it?
 
Our Brain Lab is called C.A.R.E.S.
 
C.A.R.E.S stands for Cognitive Assessment and Remediation Enabling Strategies. C.A.R.E.S addresses the neurocognitive issues such as attention, concentration, memory, learning difficulties, etc. These difficulties could arise due to the disease or sometimes due to the treatment (surgery, chemotherapy [chemo brain/ chemo fog], radiation to the whole brain, etc.) or due to various emotional factors as well (anxiety, depression etc). After a thorough and proper assessment using standardised neurocognitive assessment tools, C.A.R.E.S provides customised remediation, retraining and rehabilitation services to individuals facing these difficulties.
 
8. Do family members also go through emotional distress? What are their issues and how will they benefit from the psycho-oncology service?
 
Yes. Because your loved ones enjoy a close bonding with you, they will be affected by your illness. They feel helpless and find it difficult to express themselves, as they often feel that they do not want to burden you as you already are going through enough. To meet the emotional needs of your family, we have special sessions designed for family, spouse or partner and children.
 
The marital therapy session is designed to address various concerns and issues of the spouse as well as the couple with regard to communication, altered roles, physical intimacy etc.
 
Therapy sessions for children touched by the disease are designed to help them to deal with: hospital anxiety, fear of needles or injections, pill swallowing difficulty, treatment-related distress etc. The therapies are planned to enable children to resume normal life and functioning.
 
A child whose parent is touched by cancer often feels neglected and lost in the adult-distressed world. They appear to be struggling with their emotions which often manifests as behavioural problems, temper tantrums, etc. Such special needs are also met by the psycho-oncology service through specially designed therapy sessions to enable children to cope and return to normal.
 
9. How do I avail of this service?
 
Simple!
 
a) Just tell your doctor you are looking for assistance to deal with your emotional aspects and he or she will refer you to us.
 
OR
 
b) You could also make an independent appointment to see us. Call our desk on +91-74064 99999 or email us at [email protected].
 
10. Can I connect with the psycho-oncologist online?
 
Yes, HCG offers tele-psycho-oncology services. The tele-psycho-oncology service is facilitated via video conferencing and the service is extended to patients and their families across the country.
 
This service is offered only after a psycho-oncologist assesses and finds you suitability for tele-psycho-oncology service.
 
11. Is the service charged?
 
There is a charge for the service.

Our Psycho-Oncology Doctors

Dr. Suchitra Mehta

Dr. Suchitra Mehta

MBBS, DCH, Fellow UICC, MSc (Applied Psychology)

Specialty: Psycho-Oncology

Location: Nagpur - Kalamna Ring Road
Dr. Brindha Sitaram

Dr. Brindha Sitaram

MPhil, PhD

Specialty: Psycho-Oncology

Location: Bengaluru - K. R. Road