October 27, 2021 – 8:17 am
More than a third of cancer patients feel lonely and a quarter feel misunderstood by their environment. They more often experience complaints such as depressed feelings and anxiety than people with cancer who do not feel lonely and understood.
This is apparent from a study by the Dutch Federation of Cancer Patient Organizations (NFK) among 5,353 people who have or have had cancer. The federation advises patients to seek help and asks caregivers and relatives to be alert to loneliness and complaints.
Fellowship contact can help
People who are lonely or feel misunderstood more often have complaints such as feelings of depression, anxiety, stress and difficulty accepting the disease. They also need practical tips and emotional support from fellow sufferers more than patients who do not feel lonely. All people who have had tips and support from fellow sufferers find this helpful. ‘Everyone wants to listen to you and help you, but in the end you have to endure the disease and that is a very lonely process. Nobody really knows what it feels like, except fellow sufferers’, according to one respondent.
In addition to contact with fellow sufferers, there is also the immediate environment. In the initial phase, patients experience a lot of emotional support from their environment: after diagnosis and during treatment, more than 80 percent of cancer patients feel supported by their loved ones. After treatment, this decreases to 62 percent. The support is less for the long-term consequences: half of the patients indicate that they feel supported in this. Arja Broenland, director of NFK: ‘Even if the treatment has been going on for some time, we should not underestimate the consequences of cancer. Not all the problems people experience can be seen on the outside, so stay alert to how your loved one is doing at a later stage.’
Gender and age play a role in complaints
The poll shows a clear difference between men and women. For example, it appears that 30 percent of women do not feel understood, compared to 15 percent of men. In addition, 4 in 10 women indicate that they feel lonely, for men this is almost a quarter. In addition, women more often experience complaints such as fatigue, concentration and memory problems and anxiety. Age also plays an important role; people aged 60 or younger more often feel lonely and misunderstood and experience more complaints than people aged 61 or older.
The most common complaints that patients experience are fatigue, decreased physical condition, neuropathy (nerve pain), concentration problems and memory problems. About half of people who suffer from concentration and memory problems indicate that they need professional help. Yet it appears that only a third of them have actually received help for it, while getting help often pays off; more than half say it has helped.
NFK asks care providers in the hospital and general practitioners to be alert to loneliness in addition to paying attention to the complaints. ‘Healthcare providers must also realize that women and people of a younger age experience many of the complaints more often,’ says Arja Broenland. She calls on the patient to discuss his or her complaints: ‘You don’t have to take your complaints for granted, seeking help can help. Therefore, discuss your complaints with your healthcare provider and see what is possible together. He or she may be able to refer you. Also think of a patient organisation, a walk-in center or the website cancer.nl. They can all help you in their own way.’