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How to support a partner coping with cancer-related PTSD

March 22, 2021

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When cancer triggers post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or post-traumatic stress (PTS) in patients, how can their partners help support them?

Dr. Janet Ellis, psychiatrist who specializes in acute trauma and oncology care, explains in a recent Rewire article that “symptoms like fear, avoidance, poor sleep and nightmares lasting more than a month after the triggering incident may indicate PTSD,” and that it is possible that the condition may appear years after the initial trauma.

She adds having family, friends and an overall supportive social circle can be helpful for patients in managing their concerns and may reduce the risk of PTSD. Although cancer may not be an easy topic to discuss, it is helpful for partners to be open and mindful to improve communication.

“I think we’re slightly uncomfortable talking about people’s misfortunes,” Ellis says in her interview. “So if someone is saying, ‘I could die,’ or ‘I’m worried about my next scan,’ the temptation is to say, ‘Just think positive. You’re such a strong person.’ I think the person saying that means well, but it can feel invalidating.”

Dr. Ellis also notes it is important for individuals to reach out for help and seek treatment for PTSD.

“If someone is really living in fear…they need to see a therapist who is trauma-trained,” says Dr. Ellis.

Read the full article.