Cancer & PTSD

September 29, 2010 3:13:57 PM PDT
It's not a well known fact, but PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can not only develop as a result of war or disaster.

Sometimes cancer survivors go through an intense therapy that can leave them with anxiety and psychological scars.

Hedy Massenzio, a housewife and mother in New Jersey survived a rare leukemia with an aggressive treatment. But she was left with intense anxiety. Luckily for her, doctors at 3 hospitals in our area had begun a study for patients just like her.

The 47-year-old Massenzio survived through two years of treatment. She had a stem cell transplant, and over 200 blood transfusions, chemotherapy, radiation, and sometimes was weeks in isolation.

But it was being away from her family that hurt the most.

"It was the emotional aspect hat was really more difficult," said Hedy.

But she got through it, beating the cancer and returning home to her husband and sons.

The cancer was gone, but then emotional after effects emerged, and grew.

"I was having nightmares that I would wake up screaming from, it was bad," adds Hedy. She adds, "I'd see the NYC skyline that would give me anxiety. Seeing calendar doctors appointment, that would trigger anxiety."

Hedy was suffering the symptoms of post traumatic stress.

"It's still not well recognized. People don't know that they can have these kinds of symptoms after cancer treatment," said Dr. Katherine Duhamel, with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Dr.'s Duhamel, and Dr. William Redd of Mount Sinai Medical Center are giving this issue attention.

They conducted a study in which they used a telephone-based therapy to help patients like Hedy.

"I really didn't think that there was something out there that could help me," adds Hedy.

Once a week for ten weeks there was a telephone session with a therapist. There were also relaxation tapes and written exercises for Hedy to do. The study showed this type of therapy could help.

"It successfully addressed anxiety and distress, the two greatest problems our patients report," said Dr. Redd.

Hedy feels completely healed. "It gave me some peace and it allowed me to enjoy my life that I had back again," she said.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

A brave and amazing woman, Hedy Massenzio has now been in remission for six years. Hedy found out she was doing exactly the wrong thing to deal with her emotions.

Dr.'s Hamel and Redd and their colleagues are now training therapists so more patients can have access to this type of therapy.

For more video on this story, you can WATCH HERE.