The Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University offers a collaborative approach for dealing with cancer that begins as soon as a patient is diagnosed. The program considers the emotional, psychological and physical symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment.
And options for patients may include cognitive therapy, antidepressants, or both. Anger, fear, and anxiety mixed with the physical and emotional side effects of cancer treatments can lead to depression during and even after treatment, when patients may feel isolated.
Darren Johnson spent his 19th birthday undergoing a bone marrow transplant. A few weeks earlier, Johnson had been diagnosed with myelodysplasia, a form of leukemia in which the bone marrow fails to produce enough normal blood cells. He endured a year of treatment and then a lengthy recovery. (Watch “When Life Goes On,” a short video about his story.)
Only relatively recently have health care providers turned serious attention to the emotional well-being of cancer patients. They have realized that easing the emotional burden of a cancer diagnosis for patients and families may actually improve treatment and outcome.
A cancer diagnosis is tough for families too. Johnson believes it was harder on his parents than him.
â€œYou donâ€™t want to see your child struggle,â€ he says. â€œEven now when I get a cold, my father gets concerned.â€ His younger brother, Colin, 16 during Darrenâ€™s treatment, had a particularly difficult time seeing his brother in the ICU.
Now 26, Johnson attends the Medical University of South Carolina, where he is studying to become a physician assistant, a very different career from the one he had in mind when he was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago.
If someone gave me a chance to go back and change what I went through, I donâ€™t think I would,â€ says Johnson, a 2007 Emory graduate. â€œIt was a really important experience I had to go through. It changed my outlook. It changed my life.â€
Read more about Johnson at Emory Health magazine. Listen to a podcast with Michael Burke, MD, on helping patients cope with cancer’s emotional fallout. Learn more about patient counseling.