Being given the diagnosis of cervical cancer often brings up emotions of self-blame and depression.
Sometimes the woman has gone a long time without paying attention to herself and not having regular cervical cancer screenings. When the realization that the cancer could have been either prevented by being diagnosed in a premalignant stage or caught very early, a patient often blames herself.
Likewise, the risk factors for cervical cancer — cigarette smoking, early sexual exposure and multiple partners — all are associated with relatively low self-esteem. Finally, having to tell friends and neighbors about a cancer in an area that speaks of sexual function and private areas of feminine hygiene can lead to shame in the newly diagnosed patient.
The newly diagnosed patient may also wonder, “What did I do wrong?” Many times, especially with patients diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, the patients may have had none of the quoted risk factors and, in fact, may have been in a stable relationship for many years with no history of genital infections. These patients are often bewildered at their lack of symptoms and risk factors. They can be confused as to why they would have cervical cancer and are often angry at the world because they did “everything right” and still developed this disease.
For the patient whose regular Pap smears failed to detect the cancer in a timely fashion, there can be a lot of anger at the system, the healthcare provider or the world in general because they feel they did everything right and the system failed them. These patients often resort to legal avenues to vent their anger, but with rare exceptions, there is usually no recoverable liability.
After an initial period of shame, depression, self-deprecation, bewilderment and anger, the newly diagnosed patient can usually approach the disease hopefully, looking at treatment options.
Worry can play a significant role when people are diagnosed with cancer. Patients worry about keeping their jobs, taking care of their families, keeping up with daily activities or starting new relationships. Dealing with the medical world can cause anxiety about tests, treatments, hospital stays and medical bills. Meeting with health professionals and getting support may become necessary for both the patient and her family members.
Family and friends can be very supportive. Many people benefit from talking with other women who have experienced the same cancer in support groups, where they can share what they have learned about coping with the disease. Social workers can suggest resources that help with everything from financial aid and home care to counseling and support resources.