PTSD in Cancer Families

By: Angela LaRue


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen to anyone who suffers from a traumatic event. Often, our minds go to people who have been through war or another catastrophic event, but cancer families and patients also get PTSD.


In the last three and a half years, I have learned nothing can prepare you for triggers. Walking into a hospital for many can cause anxiety, but for families like mine who spend a much larger portion of our time there, triggers like the copious amounts of hospital grade sanitizer, the smell of the air in the ER, and seeing the same doctors and nurses who have diagnosed our child can make it an even more sensitive place.


Not only can the hospital bring up triggers, but our children can as well. Hearing things like “It’s hard to breathe,” “I have a bad headache,” or “I can’t sleep” can induce fear in a mother’s heart. Children know that these phrases are triggers and sometimes this can lead to more worry, even if they are simply being dramatic. These phrases can come from fear which can induce an anxiety attack.


Part of PTSD is the way panic sets in and soon, you feel as if the ground below you has dropped and you’re falling without anyone who can help. Your thoughts aren’t calm and rational, rather, they raise your anxiety and blood pressure. You overthink the situation and feel like you or your child may die.


So, what can a family do to help themselves?


First, speaking to our primary doctor about everything we’ve gone through is vital in order to get the appropriate medication to calm the triggers down. Not only do patients need to see a psychologist, family members like siblings and adults may also have to see a psychologist or other therapist. Part of being a parent is learning to advocate for a child in order to ensure they are getting the help they need.


Utilizing our nurses and staff is important so they are always aware of the situation and make sure they can help us and try to lower the anxiety of the PTSD. While many patients suffering from cancer and family members surrounding them know that PTSD is an issue, it’s not talked about often outside of the community.



We need to make sure those who aren’t living this nightmare on a daily basis understand that PTSD is real and does happen often in this community. By talking about it more, we can make sure who need help are getting it. Breaking the stigma will help not only yourself, but those around you as well.

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