Bone mets brings emotional stress but there are healthy ways to cope.
Cancer as a physical disease has been recognized since ancient times. However, not until 20th century interest in psychology and the effects of emotional stress on the brain and body did cancer patients’ feelings get the medical attention they deserve. Considering how many people have cancer, coping with cancer-related emotions seems like a very timely topic.
In 2016, it was estimated that nearly 1,700,000 individuals with be newly diagnosed with any form of cancer. While cancer is a feared disease, roughly 67% of patients survive for five years after diagnosis1. This means that cancer is increasingly similar to a chronic disease, with constant risk of growth and progression, painful flare-ups, intensive treatment regimens that can add disfigurement, and periods of remission. Patients can expect to find themselves on an emotional roller coaster.
Cancer that spreads to the bone (bone mets) is particularly challenging. In addition to knowing that their cancer is not curable at that stage, patients face the prospect of bone and nerve pain, and spontaneous breaks in the bone due to the action of tumor cells on bone composition. The challenge of bone mets can understandably trigger acute emotional stress. In turn, this brings about changes in the body’s only biochemistry that may be relevant in the formation of cancer2. Thus, it’s important to recognize feelings, and manage them constructively and with compassion for oneself. Here are five emotional responses to bone mets, and some ways to cope with them.
1. Out of control – These feelings arise from a sense that your cancer is an enemy, a marauding invader that will stop at nothing. There is a factual basis for this view, since the selfish cancer cells continually find ways to manipulate the body’s microscopic systems to their own advantage. Seeing cancer as the foe may not be productive because it adds to feeling out of control. It’s hard to regain control alone. Cancer retreats for those with Stage IV (metastatic) cancer help participants build more emotional “control muscle” in other areas of their lives.
2. Fear of pain – Many bone mets patients did not even know that cancer had spread to the bone until they had pain, while for others bone mets may be an incidental finding of imaging or other tests. Talk with your doctor about the range of treatments for bone pain, from medications to image-guided targeted ablation treatments.
3. Loneliness – Chances are, up till now you have not known anyone dealing with bone mets, or even skeletal cancer that originated in the bone (primary bone cancer). Feeling alone with bone mets is a setup for isolation and even self-pity. There may not be a local support group for Stage IV cancer patients, let alone those with bone mets. However, there are online discussion forums where you can receive tremendous validation for what you’re experiencing, and an end to isolation. You are not alone!
4. Depression – Not only is depression a normal response to discovering you have bone mets, but nothing makes depression worse than trying to pretend you’re NOT depressed. The effort to put on a cheerful front so you protect friends and loved ones, which sounds praiseworthy, is tiring and makes you even more vulnerable to depression. It’s healthier to share your true feelings with those who support you as well as your medical team, because it helps you move through them. If your depression is severe enough that you despair that life will ever be good again, your doctor can talk with you about taking an appropriate antidepressant that is compatible with other medications you may be on.
Managing your emotions so they don’t take you hostage actually helps your body’s immune systems, which helps maximize the effectiveness of your treatments. Take advantage of emotional resources offered by books, online discussions, a local support group and even a cancer retreat. There will still be the roller coaster nature of Stage IV cancer, but clearing away the negativity can help you keep a calm, fortified center to deal with them.
2Conti CM, Angelucci D, Ferri M, Maccauro G et a. Relationship between cancer and psychology: an updated history. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2011 Jul-Sep;25(3):331-9.
- Bone mets