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Learning About Cancer Related Post-Traumatic Stress

Today, I actually went to the gym and rode a stationary bike for 30 minutes. Other than gingerly walking my dog around the block, this is the first exercise of any kind I’ve done in about 4 weeks. I’ve tried to maintain my fitness throughout my 8-year journey with myeloma. But, for the past month, a terribly painful lower back and associated sciatica left me down and out. The downtime really hasn’t been good for my mental state. Lots of worry. I worry that my back is cancer-related. I worry that I’ve never going to truly feel good again. I worry about my medical bills. And on and on.

A mini breakdown over donuts

Fridays are treat day for my wife and me. On Friday mornings, I get us coffee and something sweet. Last week, I went on the hunt for krullers. Surprisingly, they are hard to find. It took a while, but I eventually found what I was looking for. As I was driving back home, I nearly broke down in tears over the donut experience. I was overwrought with anguish. I came home and told my wife I might have had a mini breakdown. In talking, I realized that 8 years of non-stop treatment, with no end in sight, plus having my body falling apart, as well as the usual life responsibilities, was mentally wearing me down. Before cancer and during cancer, I’ve always done a good job of looking positively forward. But this time, I couldn’t muster up the strength to do it.

Learning about PTSD

Fortunately, two days ago, I came across an article from Jason Kander, a rising politician, who stepped away from the public eye to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disease resulting from a tour of duty in Afghanistan a decade ago. The article by Jason and his wife is titled Five Lies We Tell Ourselves About Trauma. The five lies are: Lie #1: “I can’t have post-traumatic stress, because what I went through wasn’t as bad as . . . “Lie #2: “I’ll feel better once I…”Lie #3: “I’m not obsessed with control, I’m the only rational person here.”Lie #4: “My physical problems have nothing to do with my mental health.”Lie #5: “This is just who I am.”

Cancer-related post-traumatic stress

When I read these, they all rang a bit true to me. It also reflected what I’ve heard other patients say. So, I started googling PTSD and cancer and came across a whole lot of articles about cancer-related PTSD. It’s a real thing. It impacts folks in remission and folks, like me, who are living with a chronic cancer. I’m discovering that it can be very powerful. I’ve seen a therapist on and off since being diagnosed, but haven’t really stuck with it, figuring I’m tough enough to work through things like depression and anxiety on my own. But I think I need to talk to someone again. I’d suggest we all ensure that we’re taking care of our mental health in addition to our physical health. I’m not saying everyone needs help in working through their emotions, but I do know I better get on it, so I don’t have another near breakdown over donuts.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Ramae Hamrin moderator
    2 months ago

    Thank you for writing about this, Matt. I am having lower back pain lately and I, too, wonder if it is cancer related. It is hard to shake when it affects the daily routine, the exercise, the walking the dog. I knew I had PTSD after my transplant. I didn’t want to use those letters out of respect for people who had been through much worse (#1, as you say). But it was real and severe and debilitating. I’ve had breakdowns over lesser things than donuts. Most of the things I do now are to lessen or prevent the effects of PTSD and associated anxiety and depression. I did see a counselor in the cancer center, I eat well, exercise and meditate. It all helps, but I know I need to actively stay ahead of it. It is now about learning to accept and embrace a life with so much uncertainty. I appreciate the insight and wish you the very best on your journey.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    2 months ago

    @mattg It’s funny how, out of no where – Bam, it hits us. I was recently told I should talk to someone about some underlying issues I have. As a very private person, I’m finding it hard to take that step. Good for you to know better. I wish you lots of health as you continue on your journey!

  • Susan Gonsalves moderator
    2 months ago

    Thank you so much for writing about this topic. I was seeing a grief counselor prior to my diagnosis and continued for a while afterwards. Medical appts and other issues brought that to a halt, but like you, I’m considering going back into therapy. Living with a chronic, incurable leukemia is a heavy burden and although we sometimes try to brush it to one side and get on with things, it is still there. Physical therapy/exercise helps but at the moment, limitations are holding that back. I hope you are able to get the help you need (and some answers about your back). Take care. Susan

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