Jamie Reno (@jamiereno) published a blog post · November 12th, 2013
PTSD Common for Soldiers and Cancer Patients
Recently, I interviewed a Marine combat veteran who'd endured four tours of duty in Afghanistan. This guy had seen one of his best buddies killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast.
But when he learned that I’d been through four battles with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, he asked me how I made it through.
I just shook my head in amazement and said, “It was absolutely nothing compared to what you must have gone through in combat, seeing your friends die and getting shot at.”
He said in all sincerity that he could easily handle being in a war better than going through cancer treatment.
I told him I never wanted to find out which “fight” is tougher. We shared a laugh. And at that moment I was reminded, again, how much war veterans and cancer patients do indeed share.
I respect and admire every man and woman who puts on a uniform and fights for our country, and every man, woman and child who's been diagnosed with and fights cancer.
We fight very different battles, of course, but cancer and war, which are both fitting metaphors for the other, bring out the best, and worst, in us.
Both are ultimate tests of our strength, courage, and love for life.
Both can be pure hell.
And both can cause deep and lasting psychological trauma.
Last year, I reported for The Daily Beast that about one in three veterans of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is a form of anxiety that develops in reaction to physical injury or severe mental or emotional distress, such as military combat, violent assault, natural disaster, or other life-threatening events.
It is widely known that PTSD is common among our troops and veterans. But what is less commonly known is that it’s also very common among cancer patients.
Researchers in the February 2013 Journal of the National Cancer Institute confirm that nearly one in four newly diagnosed breast cancer patients often start manifesting symptoms of PTSD shortly after hearing the words, “You have breast cancer.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, the physical and mental shock of having a life-threatening disease, of receiving treatment for cancer, and living with repeated threats to one's body and life are traumatic experiences for many cancer patients that can often lead to PTSD.
I've never been formally diagnosed with PTSD. But I know I have it. No question about it.
I still sometimes have nightmares about my cancer. And I still have a hard time even driving by the hospital where I had my initial chemotherapy. It triggers a lot of emotions within me. Fear, especially, and anger.
The way I see it, every cancer patient has some form of PTSD. It typically is not as severe in cancer patients as it often is for war veterans. But it is very real.
But what matters is that for all the trauma that accompanies fighting cancer, and fighting wars, they also both give us an immeasurable appreciation for the precious gift that is this life.
That old cliché’ is true, you know: What doesn’t kill us really does make us stronger!