Ovarian Cancer Awareness month runs throughout March to highlight the illness.
Many of us are unaware that persistent stomach pain or bloating, needing to use the toilet more often than usual and difficulty eating can all be signs of ovarian cancer.
They can also be symptoms of other less serious conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome, but the key is to always get concerns like this checked out.
For those who have lived with cancer - ovarian or otherwise - the fallout can be hard to navigate. There are physical problems to deal with, such as reduced mobility or lymphoedema (swelling), as well as practical issues like navigating the return to work, while the psychological toll is often the biggest challenge of all.
It’s a subject which is finally getting more airtime, thanks to cancer awareness advocates like Dr. Anisha Patel, talking about her own struggles on Instagram (@doctorsgetcancertoo), as well as mental health support for those living with or beyond cancer becoming more widely available.
'Peri Health' is a cancer support platform. In addition to their roster of cancer experts trained in caring for the physical and practical effects of cancer, they have a mix of psychological clinicians - including psychologists and psychosexual therapists - alongside complementary therapies like mindfulness meditation and hypnotherapy.
Leading professionals from 'Peri Health' share their expert advice on some of the more common psychological issues women face after cancer.
Changes in a physical or intimate relationship
The emotional and physical impact of cancer and its treatment can change how we view sexual expression as an individual or with a partner. For many, the effects of treatment and difficult emotions reduce sexual interest and expression, while others in a relationship may find that they want sex more frequently to help them to relax or feel closer to their partner at a time of increased stress or pressure.
If you’re in a relationship, the best place to start is by talking to your partner so you understand what these sexual changes mean to each of you. This can help to avoid misunderstandings and assumptions that have not been discussed or understood.
But where do you start? Try these conversation starters:
- Be solution more than problem-focused;
- Start by exploring what you like about your relationship / being sexual together
- Each take a turn to gently explore worries /blockers of sexual intimacy
- Break “being sexual” into smaller steps – agree a beginning where you both feel able to start – such as cuddling on the sofa. Whatever feels most comfortable
- Agree clear boundaries about where to stop and stick to them.
Family life pressures
Relationships can be challenging at the best of times and a diagnosis of cancer can magnify that challenge. Often people describe feeling alone and isolated from friends and family because they don’t know what to say or how to act around them, or they can feel overwhelmed due to an abundance of unsolicited support.
It’s important to remember that the thoughts and feelings associated with cancer can be overwhelming for the people around you – whether that be partners, children, close or extended family and friends. They will need help adjusting to the changes too. By nourishing healthy, understanding relationships with your family and friends, you can build a stronger support network for any challenges you may face, together.
Living with survivor’s guilt
Life with cancer often leads to deep connections with others going through a similar thing as you. One of the most difficult psychological challenges can be when friends die as a result of their cancer. A mixture of grief for your friend can combine with fear for your own mortality, which many describe as survivor’s guilt.
As someone who has lived with incurable breast cancer for more than 13 years, Perci Health mindfulness and meditation professional Laura Ashurst says, “I have been affected by survivor’s guilt many times when friends in the secondary breast cancer community have died. Mindfulness and meditation can be very helpful in managing feelings associated with survivor’s guilt and grief. One of the underlying principles of mindfulness meditation is acceptance. Turning towards how we are feeling with an attitude of self-kindness and self-compassion is an important step in acceptance. This allows us to acknowledge the challenging impact and presence of difficult emotions, rather than berating or belittling ourselves for feeling a certain way.”
The mental impact of an early menopause
Nurse-led hypnotherapy can have a positive effect on the menopausal symptoms often experienced during and after cancer treatment or surgery - from the physical (hot flashes and brain fog, for instance) to the psychological. Often younger women who are going through an induced menopause can feel particularly isolated, and out of kilter with their own peers and those who are going through natural menopause at a later stage in life. Through hypnotherapy - a talking therapy which utilises a relaxed state of attention- can help to change the rehearsed anxious thoughts or behaviours which often a person is unaware of, but in working through them with a hypnotherapist they make way for a more flexible, adaptive way of being.
Words and expert advice from the following:
Dr. Isabel White - Perci Health’s psychosexual therapist
Dr. Lucy Davidson - Perci Health’s psychologist
Laura Ashurst - Health mindfulness and meditation professional
Beverley Longhurst - Perci Health’s cancer nurse hypnotherapist
For more information on ovarian cancer, visit: www.percihealth.com