Dealing with both Cancer Patients and Victims of Abuse

In recognition of Sexual Assault, Child Abuse, and Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) Month, we think about those victims of sexual—be it physical or emotional. 

In a previous blog about Mental Health Matters, the subject was about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As an add-on, we’ll look into the effect of PTSD on cancer patients. The PTSD-causing traumatic encounter in this discussion will be sexual and physical attacks.

Effect of trauma on cancer patients, e.g., PTSD and others

As a recap, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can manifest in people’s psyche who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic incident. A person may develop PTSD after experiencing an abusive relationship, isolated violent assaults, life and death situations, or natural calamities. 

To add insult to serious injury, these PTSD-causing traumatic experiences may affect cancer patients too.

Cancer-related experiences among victims and survivors of sexual abuse

The National Library of Medicine published a study on cancer treatment experiences among victims of childhood sexual abuse. It reveals that 25% of women and 8% of men in America have gone through childhood sexual abuse before reaching the age of legality or just about when puberty has reached its peak.

Healthcare visits and interactions are said to trigger cumulative trauma due to feeling parallelism to past abuse, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Removing one’s clothes
  • Helplessness/Hopelessness
  • Lack of control 
  • Recurring patterns

A qualitative analysis recognized two main themes categorizing child sexual abuse survivors’ encounters.
1. Treatment-related triggers
2. Questioning the reason of cumulative trauma

Sensitivity of the underlying issues of cancer treatment on victims of abuse

Family members, friends, and co-workers should be sensitive and patient around sexual abuse survivors, and even more those who developed cancer. It may mess up the survivors’ minds that this terminal illness has afflicted them because of their ugly experiences of not speaking up or fighting back.

The cumulative trauma—original abuse’s lingering emotional impact plus the negative perceptions of the self, the world, and their tomorrow. It gets reprocessed and relieved again during cancer treatment so imagine the internal turmoil of feeling punished for existing.

Because of this complex scenario, it’s difficult to analyze whether the patients’ retraumatizing past abuse could possibly be a reaction to cancer treatment, which can be invasive and repetitive or just a sole trigger of unresolved past issues. Further research on traumatized victims’ reactions to cancer treatment is beneficial. Cancer care specialists and providers also need to know these nuances and not disregard the plight of some patients.

What increases the risk, especially in women and children with cancer diagnosis?

Previously, we covered past abuse triggers. What if the abuse is still in the present?

It’s like a never-ending cycle. A trap.

A typical situation to be caught in is where the cancer patient has to sacrifice and continue to depend on the abuser for economic reasons and rewards, payment for medical fees and expenses, transportation access to sessions, or as simple as managing daily tasks.

This makes it harder for the survivor patient to cope because of the lack of control and unfortunate circumstances. What if this patient’s biological family abandoned or left them in the custody of a ‘genetic stranger’ or foster families who didn’t show any trace of red flags in order to win a court battle to look after the patient.

There are medical records and background checks, but this doesn’t apply to other remote regions.

There are all these risk factors and more make it easier for the abuser to have theupper handd and inflict abuse without retaliation or threat to be reported to the police or proper authorities.

Escape plan

Leaving an abusive home or relationship is not always an available option, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan to stay safe

  • Plan an escape route along with your escape tools and gadgets and know where you can go safe
  • Communicate with a friend or neighbor through morse code or other unconventional means to not be suspected, and ask them to call 911 if they hear a ruckus at your house
  • At home, plan an escape route ahead of time and know where you can go to stay safe.
  • Talk with a neighbor or friend who you can trust and ask that person to call 911 if they ever hear a disturbance at your house.
  • Steer clear of areas where there are kitchen utensils such as knives that may be present during a possible sexual attack or fight
  • Stay in a room with a window or passage if you feel in danger, assuming the other doors are locked.

What is the message to caregivers, medical experts, and health staff?

It’s more than what meets the eye. You have to be understanding to patients who are showing violent tendencies or even passive-aggressiveness. For medical experts and clinical trial experts, you should know that in general, every person has gone through trauma in their lives , and it’s not any different from cancer patients who are victims of abuse.

You might have a case where an intimate partner displays violence or domestic abuse. The signs wouldn’t manifest themselves right away because the perpetrator can be a skilled manipulator, making the victim question her affliction and sanity…her reality. Some are talented actors who make themselves appear as the victims when they’re the abusers. So convincing!

As members of the medical field, implore yourselves to try to understand as media and movies might desensitize us , but it doesn’t diminish the harsh realities and atrocities in hospitals and health care facilities.

Message for the cancer-sexual abuse victims

Your negative feelings of hate, disgust, frustration, and anger you feel about yourself is normal. However, you have to break free from that because that’s part of holistic healing. Take your time. Self-acceptance and even forgiveness, applicable to survivors of past abuse.

PTSD-causing traumatic encounters are normal but doesn’t mean they are untreatable. The triggers can be minimized.

The New Hope Unlimited inspires hope for its cancer patients. Its cancer program is formed with a personal approach to treating all kinds of patients. Focus on the person as a whole, while simultaneously addressing the root causes as well as the physical symptoms of the disease. Different cancer treatment…but definitely better. Call the New Hope Unlimited team today.

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