Mental State & Cancer

Mental State: Stress, Depression, Anxiety, PTSD Affects Cancer

Does your mental state determine your health? YES

Is mental state an issue in developing cancer? YES

And in beating cancer? YES



Approximately half of all patients with terminal or advanced cancer suffer with poor mental health. Specifically, stress, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) plague people with advanced or terminal cancer, however less than half of cancer patients receive treatment for their mental health.

Dealing with an illness as serious as cancer is no small thing. Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be very difficult for patients and families. People often experience grief about current and anticipated losses, as well as worry about the progression of their disease and the effects of treatment procedures. Often, they are stressed and unsure about how to manage work, finances, and the thought of experiencing an untimely death.

A cancer diagnosis is often accompanied with swift and aggressive treatment, and it’s all but expected that a person will be overwhelmed, worried, fearful, and anxious while doctors focus on their medical well-being. It’s true that stress, anxiety and depression are very real and very common consequences of a cancer diagnosis. But just because they’re expected doesn’t mean they can, or should, be ignored. Addressing the mental health needs of cancer patients at all ages is essential, and counseling for cancer patients by Dr. Kevin  Kilday, PhD is valuable for its own sake. But it does go a step further: failing to address these concerns may actually decrease the patient’s odds of recovery.

It is important for patients to learn how to best cope with their cancer diagnosis and treatment. Social support systems provide patients with a place to turn and assistance in maintaining a positive attitude. Many patients do lack these supports. Adjusting to a diagnosis of cancer often brings about feelings of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, self-blame, and anger. For these reasons Holistic Health Center has started the Cancer Fighters Group that meets at its location once a week. It is a support group made up of cancer patients and family members, caregivers, and cancer survivors who share their experiences but most of all, the group offers hope which gives the current cancer patient a greater chance of recovery.

The following will show you how your mental state is of vital importance in cancer recovery.



Stress describes what people feel when they are under mental, physical, or emotional pressure. Although it is normal to experience some psychological stress from time to time, people who experience high levels of psychological stress or who experience it repeatedly over a long period of time may develop health problems (mental and/or physical).

Stress can be caused both by daily responsibilities and routine events, as well as by more unusual events, such as a trauma or illness in oneself or a close family member. When people feel that they are unable to manage or control changes caused by cancer or normal life activities, they are in distress. Distress has become increasingly recognized as a factor that can reduce the quality of life of cancer patients. There is evidence that extreme distress is associated with poorer cancer outcomes.

When stressed, hormones become imbalanced. Cortisol levels may become elevated. Melatonin levels may become diminished. Others like insulin and estrogen may have increased levels as a result.  And these hormones cause an increase of inflammation and even cancer risk.

Stress can affect a tumor’s ability to grow and spread. For example, studies have found that the stress hormone norepinephrine, part of the body’s fight-or-flight response system, may promote metastasis (spread of cancer to other parts of the body).

People who have cancer may find the physical, emotional, and social effects of the disease to be stressful. Those who attempt to manage their stress with risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking alcohol or who become more sedentary may have a poorer quality of life after cancer treatment. Patients can develop a sense of helplessness or hopelessness when stress becomes overwhelming. People who feel helpless or hopeless may not seek treatment when they become ill, give up prematurely on or fail to adhere to potentially helpful therapy, engage in risky behaviors such as drug use, or do not maintain a healthy lifestyle, resulting in premature death.

In contrast, people who are able to use effective coping strategies to deal with stress, such as relaxation and stress management techniques, have been shown to have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and symptoms related to the cancer and its treatment.

Holistic Health Center uses the following coping strategies:

Training in relaxation, meditation, or stress management

Counseling and talk therapy by Holistic Health Center founder Dr. Kevin Kilday, PhD

Cancer education sessions at the weekly Cancer Fighters Group meetings

Social support in a group setting at the weekly Cancer Fighters Group meetings

Proven Supplements for stress, depression or anxiety sold by Holistic Health Center

Exercise (any is beneficial) we recommend walking at least 30 minutes 4 – 5 times a week



It’s normal to grieve over the changes that cancer brings to a person’s life. The future, which may have seemed so sure before, now becomes uncertain. Some dreams and plans may be lost forever. But if a person has been sad for a long time or is having trouble carrying out day-to-day activities, that person may have clinical depression. In fact, up to 1 in 4 people with cancer have clinical depression.

Clinical depression causes great distress, impairs functioning, and might even make the person with cancer less able to follow their cancer treatment plan. The good news is that clinical depression can be treated.

If someone you know has symptoms of clinical depression, encourage them to get help. There are many ways to treat clinical depression including supplements (clinically proven to be as effective as medicines), counseling, or a combination of both. Treatments can reduce suffering and improve quality of life.


Symptoms of clinical depression

Ongoing sad, hopeless, or “empty” mood for most of the day

Loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities most of the time

Major weight loss (when not dieting) or weight gain

Being slowed down or restless and agitated almost every day, enough for others to notice

Extreme tiredness (fatigue) or loss of energy

Trouble sleeping with early waking, sleeping too much, or not being able to sleep

Trouble focusing thoughts, remembering, or making decisions

Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless

Frequent thoughts of death or suicide (not just fear of death), suicide plans or attempts

Remember, some of these symptoms, such as weight changes, fatigue, or even forgetfulness can be caused by cancer and its treatment. But if 5 or more of these symptoms happen nearly every day for 2 weeks or more, or are severe enough to interfere with normal activities, it might be depression.   If this is the case, encourage the person to be checked for clinical depression. If the person tries to hurt him- or herself, or has a plan to do so, get help right away.


Things that can help a depressed cancer patient include:

Encourage the depressed person to continue treatment until symptoms improve, or to talk to the doctor about different treatments if there’s no improvement after 2 or 3 weeks.

Promote physical activity, especially mild exercise such as daily walks.

Help make appointments for mental health treatment, if needed.

Provide transportation for treatment, if needed.

Engage the person in conversation and activities they enjoy.

Remember that it’s OK to feel sad and grieve over the losses that cancer has brought to their lives, and to yours.

Realize that being pessimistic and thinking everything is hopeless are symptoms of depression and should get better with treatment.

Reassure the person that with time and treatment, he or she will start to feel better – and although changes to the treatment plan are sometimes needed, it’s important to be patient.

Adequate recognition and treatment of depression in patients with cancer can enhance quality of life and help patients and families make the best use of their time together.

Not everyone who is diagnosed with cancer reacts in the same way. Some cancer patients may not have depression or anxiety, while others may have high levels of both.

Signs that you have adjusted to the cancer diagnosis and treatment include being able to stay active in daily life and continue in your roles as a spouse, parent, and/or employee.


Family members also have a risk of depression.

Anxiety and depression are also common in family members caring for loved ones with cancer. Children are affected when a parent with cancer is depressed and may have emotional and behavioral problems themselves.

Good communication helps. Family members who talk about feelings and solve problems are more likely to have lower levels of anxiety and depression.

Partners and close family members are wise to be open and honest about their own feelings regarding the diagnosis, which might encourage those afflicted to share their personal thoughts and emotions about what they’re going through.

Making efforts to continue a normal life as much as possible is also helpful.


Holistic Health Center has a depression questionnaire to identify depression. Remember Holistic Health Center is here to help you or a family member overcome any mental health problem that may hinder cancer recovery. Call 321-549-0711 for an appointment with Dr. Kevin Kilday, PhD, Dr. of Natural Health. Dr. Kilday is also a Board Certified Therapist.



At many different times during their treatment and recovery, people with cancer may be fearful and anxious. For most people with cancer, finding out that they have cancer or that the cancer came back causes the most anxiety and fear. Fear of treatment, doctor visits, and tests might also cause apprehension (the feeling that something bad is going to happen).

It’s normal to feel afraid when you’re sick. People may be afraid of uncontrolled pain, dying, or what happens after death, including what might happen to loved ones. And, again, these same feelings may be experienced by family members and friends. Here are some signs and symptoms of fear and anxiety.


Symptoms of anxiety and fear:

Anxious facial expression

Uncontrolled worry

Trouble solving problems and focusing thoughts

Muscle tension (the person may also look tense or tight)

Trembling or shaking

Restlessness, may feel keyed up or on edge

Dry mouth

Irritability or angry outbursts (grouchy or short-tempered)

If a person has these symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, and they are interfering with his or her life, a mental health evaluation could helpful. Keep in mind that sometimes, despite having all the symptoms, a person may deny having these feelings. But if they are willing to admit that they feel distressed or uncomfortable, therapy can often help.


Things that can help an anxious cancer patient include:

Encourage, but do not force, each other to talk.

Share feelings and fears that you or the anxious person may be having.

Listen carefully to each other’s feelings. Offer support, but don’t deny or discount feelings.

Remember that it’s OK to feel sad and frustrated.

Get help through counseling with Dr. Kilday, PhD and/or support groups such as Cancer Fighters Group.

Use meditation, prayer, or other types of spiritual support. Dr. Kilday, PhD is a Pastor and offers Pastoral Counseling.

Try deep breathing and relaxation exercises. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, focus on each body part and relax it, start with your toes and work up to your head. When relaxed try to think of a pleasant place such as a beach in the morning or a sunny field on a spring day.


Holistic Health Center offers an anxiety questionnaire to identify an anxiety disorder. Remember Holistic Health Center is here to help you or a family member overcome any mental health problem that may hinder cancer recovery. Call 321-549-0711 for an appointment with Dr. Kevin Kilday, PhD, Dr. of Natural Health. Dr. Kilday is a Board Certified Therapist.



Some survivors of cancer experience trauma -related symptoms similar to symptoms experienced by people who have survived highly stressful situations, such as military combat, natural disasters, violent personal attack (such as rape), or other life-threatening events. This group of symptoms is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and includes avoiding situations related to the trauma, continuously thinking of the trauma, and being overexcited.

People with histories of cancer are considered to be at risk for PTSD. 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.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as the development of certain symptoms following a mentally stressful event that involved actual death or the threat of death, serious injury, or a threat to oneself or others. For the person who has experienced a diagnosis of cancer, the specific trauma that triggers PTSD is unclear. It may be the actual diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, aspects of the treatment process, test results, information given about recurrence, or some other aspect of the cancer experience. Learning that one’s child has cancer is traumatic for many parents. Because the cancer experience involves so many upsetting events, it is much more difficult to single out one event as a cause of stress than it is for other traumas, such as natural disasters or rape. The traumatic event may cause responses of extreme fear, helplessness, or horror and may trigger PTSD symptoms.


PTSD in cancer survivors may be expressed in these specific behaviors:

Reliving the cancer experience in nightmares or flashbacks and by continuously thinking about it.

Avoiding places, events, and people connected to the cancer experience.

Being continuously overexcited, fearful, irritable, and unable to sleep.

To be diagnosed as PTSD, these symptoms must last for at least one month and cause significant problems in the patient’s personal relationships, employment, or other important areas of daily life. Patients who have these symptoms for less than one month often develop PTSD later.

Cancer is an experience of repeated traumas and undetermined length. The patient may experience stress symptoms anytime from diagnosis through completion of treatment and cancer recurrence. In patients who have a history of victimization (such as physical or mental abuse) and who have PTSD or its symptoms from these experiences, symptoms can be started again by certain triggers experienced during their cancer treatment (for example, clinical procedures such as being inside MRI or CT scanners). While these patients may have problems adjusting to cancer and cancer treatment, their PTSD symptoms may vary, depending on other factors. The symptoms may become more or less prevalent during and after the cancer treatment.

Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within the first 3 months after the trauma, but sometimes they do not appear for months or even years afterwards. Therefore, cancer survivors and their families should be involved in long-term monitoring.

Some people who have experienced an upsetting event may show early symptoms without meeting the full diagnosis of PTSD. However, these early symptoms predict that PTSD may develop later. Early symptoms also indicate the need for repeated and long-term follow-up of cancer survivors and their families.

Diagnosing PTSD can be difficult since many of the symptoms are similar to other psychiatric problems. For example, irritability, poor concentration, increased defensiveness, excessive fear, and disturbed sleep are symptoms of both PTSD and anxiety disorder. Other symptoms are common to PTSD, phobias, and panic disorder. Some symptoms, such as loss of interest, a sense of having no future, avoidance of other people, and sleep problems may indicate the patient has PTSD or depression. Even without PTSD or other problems, normal reactions to the cancer diagnosis and treatment of a life-threatening disease can include interfering thoughts, separating from people and the world, sleep problems, and over-excitability.

Other problems may also exist in addition to PTSD. These problems can include substance abuse, emotional problems, and other anxiety disorders, including major depression, alcohol dependence, drug dependence, social fears, and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are long-lasting and serious. It may affect the patient’s ability to have a normal lifestyle and may interfere with personal relationships, education, and employment. Because avoiding places and persons associated with cancer is part of PTSD, the syndrome may prevent the patient from seeking medical treatment. It is important that cancer survivors receive information about the possible psychological effects of their cancer experience and early treatment of symptoms of PTSD. Therapies used to treat PTSD are those used for other trauma victims. Treatment may involve more than one type of therapy.

The crisis intervention method tries to lessen the symptoms and return the patient to a normal level of functioning. The therapist focuses on solving problems, teaching coping skills, and providing a supportive setting for the patient.

Some patients are helped by methods that teach them to change their behaviors by changing their thinking patterns. Some of these methods include helping the patient understand symptoms, teaching coping and stress management skills (such as relaxation training), teaching the patient to reword upsetting thoughts, and helping the patient become less sensitive to upsetting triggers. Behavior therapy is used when the symptoms are avoidance of sexual activity and intimate situations.

Support groups may also help people who experience post-traumatic stress symptoms. In the group setting, patients can receive emotional support, meet others with similar experiences and symptoms, and learn coping and management skills.

Holistic Health Center offers a PTSD questionnaire to identify a post-traumatic stress disorder. Remember Holistic Health Center is here to help you or a family member overcome any mental health problem that may hinder cancer recovery. Call 321-549-0711 for an appointment with Dr. Kevin Kilday, PhD, Dr. of Natural Health. Dr. Kilday is a Board Certified Therapist.



Many people are better able to better cope with cancer and treatment with the help of a strong support system–talking with friends, family, clergy, or joining a support group. Holistic Health Center offers Questionnaires to identify mental health disorders, Talk Therapy, Pastoral Counseling, a support group with the Cancer Fighters Group and Clinically Proven Supplements for treatment of anxiety, stress, depression and PTSD. Therapy may include a combination of these therapies.

If you think you may be suffering from a mental health disorder brought on by a cancer diagnosis, a good place to start is by calling and making an appointment with Dr. Kevin Kilday, PhD, Dr. of Natural Health.

Holistic Health Center’s ultimate goal is to help the whole person (mind, body and spirit), increasing their quality of life and improving health outcomes.