Psychology: The Forgotten Side of Cancer Care

What Goes Through the Mind of Someone With Cancer

Statistics show that 2 in 5 people in Australia will be diagnosed with cancer, which equals a whopping 43%. When a patient walks into any medical space with a cancer diagnosis, we can fail to see the overall impact on the person in front of us & the overall impact on their life.

We often see the diagnosis, prognosis, scans, blood work, treatment protocols, pharmaceutical trials, physical side effects & ultimately the success or lack of success surrounding treatment. Medical investigations and results tell us a lot about cancer, but they tell us very little about the person & how they are really feeling.  Therefore, our thinking is often met with the medical nature of the disease, so it’s easy to overlook what challenges cancer patients may experience as a whole.

So when you ask “How are you?”  to a cancer patient, what is their typical response?

As a psychologist who has worked in an oncology team for close to 5 years, a cancer patient’s mind tends to take them to two immediate places: Am I closer to dying or not closer to dying?

The psychological impact of living with this everyday, is undeniably huge. Cancer consumes nearly every moment of a patient’s life and because of this they often respond with some sort of medical orientated answer that tells them & tells us how they are. Therefore, we can fail to understand what these people live with on a daily basis & unfortunately we can easily loose sight of how they really are, because there is such a heavy focus on their diagnosis, prognosis and treatment planning.


Cancer Psychological Distress

1 in 2 cancer patients experience psychological distress throughout their cancer experience. This means every second person we see with cancer, in any medical setting, is distressed at some point. This tells us the importance of checking in & that the support offered needs to go beyond the physical nature of treating the disease & purely navigating their treatment.  We need to support the whole person & help them navigate the entirety of the cancer experience.

We know people with cancer face many emotional, social, psychological, cognitive & practical day to day challenges, which is on top of the physical disease burden. This is why psychologists are an integral component of a person’s oncology support team. Cancer patients deserve to have a space to unpack how they feel & what their experiences are like, given the diversity of change, adjustment, grief & loss that cancer brings into their life.

Psychologists work with the sides of cancer that lurk in the shadows & the parts of cancer we don’t always see. The parts we sometimes forget about. The parts that still have a significant impact on a person’s overall quality of life, irrespective of what a diagnosis is, prognosis is or what their latest blood work or scan tell us.

Does Counselling or Psychology Help People with Cancer

Psychologists can support cancer patients alongside their medical team, & it has been shown that in doing so their overall experience in navigating cancer is improved. Psychologists can provide support with the following:   

  • Adjustment  
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Existential crises
  • Body image
  • Identity
  • Functional capacity issues
  • Treatment uncertainty and decision making
  • Sexual changes/sexual dysfunction
  • Interpersonal relationship issues
  • Carer fatigue and burnout
  • Grief and loss
  • Spiritual & religious exploration
  • End of life plannning
  • Death anxiety


Lea is an experienced Senior Psychologist, who has worked with cancer patients in both hospitals and private practice over the past 5 years. To learn more about Lea, check out her bio here.

To book an appointment with Lea, or enquire contact our friendly Client Relationships Team on 07 3801 1772. We offer remote telehealth consultation or if you are in Cleveland or Loganholme book an in-person appointment here.

Share the love