Is it normal for an oncology patient to be afraid to go out in the street?
Yes, it is frequent, and it is also a generalized fear in the population and increased in all those people who are especially vulnerable to the development of serious symptoms in the event of contagion. In my experience, elderly people living alone and/or people who were under active medical or psychological treatment when the confinement began are the most affected.
It has been a few months in which we have had an overdose of frightening messages. We were told to stay at home unless we could not breathe, to avoid going to hospitals, let alone going out to stretch our legs, or to shop, or to receive love from our loved ones, and this was reinforced by the constant presence of figures of infected and deceased people.
I do not mean that it is not important to avoid contagion and to be informed, but it is cognitively and emotionally difficult to manage an overflowing, confusing and, in many cases, contradictory information. And on the other hand, in a society accustomed to turning its back on illness and death, it has been a constant reminder of our vulnerability.
How can we treat the fear of going out in the street in oncology patients?
First of all, it is essential to have adequate, objective and measured information to avoid the development of false beliefs, or to counteract existing ones.
As usual, what on the one hand was adequate to avoid the spread of the virus, has been harmful for people who were undergoing active treatment, for example for cancer, since many stopped attending treatment without their doctors recommending it. Likewise, we run the risk of an increase in late-stage diagnoses because the medical consultations were not made at the time.
Therefore, if you were under medical treatment and your doctor has not contacted you to continue it, do it yourself. And if you had an appointment with your oncologist or specialist because you had detected a lump or any other suspicion, call to reschedule it as soon as possible.
Secondly, staying at home for so long and associating it with our safety and health has turned the street into a place of danger and illness. Our brain accommodates to whatever we give it and has reduced all our functions to the minimum possible. It is as if we had been hibernating bears in our cave. It is going to take a special effort to get us going, but if we are really afraid of illness and death, it is essential to empower life.
Take the recommended preventive measures and plan a daily outing. At first closer to home and for a short time. Gradually move away and/or increase the time. You will see how practice creates normality and the fear disappears. Don’t wait to stop being afraid, because when fear is empowered, it doesn’t want to give up its host for anything in the world!
Thirdly, it has been found that more than 34% of people with cancer have experienced anxiety and depression during confinement. There are specific risk factors such as being young or female, having a low level of education, being unemployed or having a low level of income, but it is a fairly widespread reality.
So, if this is your case, make an appointment with a psycho-oncologist to help you dissolve the fear, anxiety or any other emotional symptom that has increased, or appeared, during this time. Mental and emotional health is not only essential to feel good, but also to successfully overcome cancer and its treatment.
Everything I have said is also valid if you have already finished your active treatment, or if you are in the follow-up phase. Remember that the normal thing is to be and feel well. Do not let it be.
Do you feel identified with any of the symptoms I am talking about? Do you share my reflections?
Please, if you think I can help you or that I can help someone you know, write to me and I will be happy to respond: [email protected].
Let’s overcome the old taboos to get out of this together.