Health Beat: The hidden scars of cancer: Families struggle with post-traumatic stress
Updated On: Jan 09 2014 04:38:08 PM CST
Just like a soldier returning from battle may experience post-traumatic stress, so too can the loved ones of cancer patients. The life-threatening diagnosis can leave families living in intense fear, overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness, and avoiding people or places that trigger bad memories.
When 12-year-old Sammy Bradly began falling asleep at baseball practice, he knew something was wrong.
"I just wasn't feeling the same. I didn’t feel like me," said Sammy, who was diagnosed with AML leukemia.
"Honestly, I pretty much fell to my knees and blacked out," said Annie Bradly, Sammy’s mom.
Sammy endured six months of chemotherapy.
"I met a lot of people in the hospital and I was the only one to walk away alive," said Sammy, who lost his best friend, Noxah, to cancer.
"He was the only person I knew that would understand how I felt," Sammy said.
Four years now in remission, the experience has not been forgotten.
"I know that these guys don't know, but there are days where I just start crying for no reason at all," Annie explained.
Intense fear still plagues Sammy’s mom.
"What do I do? We're okay, but are we okay?" Annie said.
Dr. Anne Kazak said the traumatic stress symptoms are more common in parents than people know.
"It might be bad dreams or nightmares. It might also just be that you’re walking down the street and all of the sudden you are back in that moment," said Kazak, pediatric psychologist, Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.
One study of 171 mothers and fathers of cancer patients found all but one had post-traumatic stress, closely related to PTSD; something Kazak said affects about one in three parents.
She said her best advice is to focus on what you can control.
"It's almost never helpful to worry too much in advance," Kazak said.
Also, Kazak recommends finding support.
"Reflect on the fact that you are in a war against cancer," Kazak explained.
It is a fight Sammy's family accepts.
"It’s just a huge part of who I am today," Sammy said.
There are things that parents can do to help with traumatic stress symptoms. Relaxation techniques such as visualization, deep breathing, yoga, and meditation may be helpful. Both healthcare professionals and parents looking for information about medical trauma can go to healthcaretoolbox.org.
Copyright 2014 WFMZ. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
DA: Missing Lehigh County woman found dead; stepfather charged
Gunman opens fire inside barbershop; 4 people shot
Black ice a worry overnight with flurries lingering Thursday morning
Man killed after being struck by vehicle in Bethlehem
Trucker charged with vehicular homicide in crash that killed 3 on I-78
Jackknifed truck closes snow-covered road in West Penn
Two teens wounded by gunshot in Tamaqua
Snow forces postponement of Easton-Pburg football game
Expert says residents should not be alarmed about recent missing woman cases
Police: Student pointed gun at another in Citadel classroom