Health: Challenges Faced By Cancer Patients And Their Families


Cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of death in the world. About 7.5 million people all over the world die from cancer each year. With a growth rate of over one million each year, Cancer continues to be a global issue. Cancer not only affects and weakens the physical body, but this disease also tends to strain the patient emotionally. A cancer diagnosis also affects family members and those who are closest to you. The lifestyle changes required may be overwhelming and can cause tension within the family.

Some of the challenges faced include;


Even before we get to actually tackling the disease, the period required for diagnosing the disease can be strenuous. A cancer diagnosis may be missed or delayed because the earlier stages may lack any symptoms. Worse still, some of those symptoms are similar to other conditions or diseases. For example, one may shrug off migraines as caused by stress or other reasons. Many would only go to get screened in case of an accident or after months of severe pain.

The charity Target Ovarian Cancer conducted a study that showed that more than 50% of women are misdiagnosed every year with it taking up to 6 months to get the right diagnosis. When one member of the family is sick continuously to no avail, life becomes tough for the patient and family. The hospital visits and administering of wrong medication becomes a hustle.


Financial Issues

One of the major issues facing cancer patients is access to funds. Cancer does not choose its patients. Cancer patients fall in all classes; from the upper class to the lower class. Cancer diagnosis and treatment is extremely expensive. Most patients in the lower-earning class struggle to access to medical facilities that they require. A while back there was an issue in Kenyatta National Hospital where patients would have to wait months to access equipment for cancer testing. They have over 400 people on the waitlist. Still, access to the tests does not come cheap with tests ranging from Kshs 80,000.

Most families have to change their lifestyles just so they can redirect some of their finances to the treatment. Some families even hold harambees to ask for donations to cater to these expenses. Children may miss school when finances dwindle. In case the patient is sickly, he/she requires round the clock care which is also very expensive to hire. Other families are forced to move into their relatives’ houses so they can save on costs.

Emotional Drain

Cancer is already so gruelling to a patient’s body. The chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions accompanied by the effect of the drug on the body are enough to put tremendous strain on their bodies. This is excluding the pain that most patients go through. This eventually takes a toll on the patient’s emotional well-being which only serves to deteriorate their condition. The patient may also feel like a burden due to the financial strain of the disease.

As hard as it is for the patient, it is extremely upsetting to the family members. There is nothing as hard as watching a loved one in pain or suffering knowing very well there is nothing one can do about it. Many family members report feeling a sense of hopelessness, fear, and uncertainty. You are constantly worried about your loved one hoping that they get better but still trying to prepare yourself for anything. In the case that your child is the patient, most parents may feel like they have failed to protect their child. Some wonder if it is something that they did, or didn’t do and this can lead to a disastrous downward spiral to depression.

The aftermath

As bleak as this disease may be, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Over 50% of the people diagnosed with cancer beat the disease and become cancer survivors. With increased medical development, the cancer mortality rate continues to reduce. However, with cancer, it just does not end there.

Most patients and their families are said to suffer from post-traumatic stress. They may have spent so many years living with the disease that it becomes an issue moving on with life. Most survival patients deal with survivor’s guilt. During their treatment, cancer patients get very close to other cancer patients. It becomes a great support system for them since they can interact with people who understand what they are growing through. However, along the way, they may lose friends who succumb to the disease. Many of those who actually beat the disease feel guilty for making it through alive and continuously ask themselves ‘why me’? Most patients are advised to visit psychiatrists.

Additionally, cancer survivors may be in a rush to get back to their normal lives; just to make things feel normal. This includes going back to work. Problem is, your body may not be physically ready to get back to work so you may struggle with fatigue, breathing problems and even nausea. This can dampen their morale. There is also the issue of discrimination. Many have reported cases where they face discrimination when they get back to work. One may find they have been demoted or find that an employer does not want to hire you because you have had cancer. This makes it harder to go back to your normal routine.

Cancer is an extremely hard disease to deal with. It is our responsibility as a community to ensure we provide support, financially and otherwise to patients and their families in such times of need. We may not be able to beat the disease physically, but we can do so much in ensuring that we support families going through the cancer journey.

We need to put pressure on the government to make facilities available for cancer screening and treatment. We may not be affected today but we will be tomorrow. One of the reasons so many cancer patients do not survive is because of the high cost of chemotherapy and radiation.  Also because of the high cost of screening and misdiagnosis, many find out they have cancer when it’s already too late. If the government can take the issue of cancer seriously, many lives can be saved. Read more about Health: The Politics Of Cancer.

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