Three words no one wants to hear: "You have cancer". Or for parents: "Your child has cancer". The diagnosis can be devastating for both the mind and body. From challenging treatments to difficult emotional responses, some parents and children can experience traumatic stress reactions or even PTSD as they make their way through cancer treatment and recovery.
"First and foremost, understand that cancer can not only wreak havoc on the body but on the mind, too, says Dr. Anne Kazak, of Nemours Alfred I. DuPont Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware. She is considered a pioneer in the field of post-traumatic stress from pediatric illness. Part of the work we do with people in treatment is help them understand or appreciate that they went through experiences where they didn't have control over what happened," she says. You may be done with treatment, and you may even be referred to as cured. But the psychological effects of experiencing a serious illness can take much longer to surface, Kazak says. You didn't have control over the fact that you developed cancer or were given the prognosis of just a year or two to live while others in treatment beside you passed away. "For both kids and adults, it's a big deal," Kazak says.
As a doctor, nurse or other healthcare provider, why does the emotional health of your patient's and their families matter? Unfortunately, traumatic stress reactions can result in poorer treatment and medication adherence, adverse health outcomes, and worse functional outcomes. While it is impractical for a physician or nurse to deliver a full mental health intervention themselves, assessing patients and families for traumatic stress reactions falls within the realm of practicality. One assessment, the Psychosocial Assessment Tool (PAT), can be used to by doctors and nurses to quickly evaluate a patient and family's psychosocial risk. The PAT identifies a family's areas of risk and resiliency across multiple domains (e.g., family structure and resources, family problems, social support, child problems, acute stress, sibling problems).
Learn more about the PAT and how to implement the assessment at your hospital at http://www.psychosocialassessmenttool.org/ , then join our Facebook conversation on traumatic stress in pediatric cancer patients and ways to incorporate psychosocial assessment into the course of cancer treatment and recovery.