Mental Health Support: Study Reveals Huge Need Amongst Colorectal Cancer Patients

This Mental Health Awareness Month, Fight Colorectal Cancer, is urging the clinician and patient communities to take mental health seriously and connect patients with resources.

When asked, “What information do you wish you had at diagnosis?” and “What information do you need now?” many colorectal cancer patients and caregivers indicated mental and behavioral support as a top need, especially once treatment has begun and well into survivorship. This May, Mental Health Awareness Month, Fight CRC is urging the clinician and patient communities to take mental health seriously and connect patients with resources that can help.

The finding comes from a study by Fight Colorectal Cancer, “Priorities of Unmet Needs for Those Affected by Colorectal Cancer: Considerations from a Series of Nominal Group Technique Sessions,” that will be published in the print edition of the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) in June 2021.

“Our relentless champions vulnerably shared their feedback with us, and year over year, mental health needs were something we consistently heard about from patients,” said Anjee Davis, president of Fight Colorectal Cancer. “We hope this study showcases the urgency of a stronger connection between those who offer mental health resources and those who need them the most.”

One of those patients is Jelena Tompkins from Colorado Springs, Colo., a stage III rectal cancer survivor who was diagnosed at age 34. Tompkins was diagnosed when her daughter was five years old, despite being a runner and in otherwise great shape. As a Fight CRC Ambassador, she’s sharing her story to help other patients know they’re not alone in what they face, including mental health needs.

“I wish my healthcare team would have kept reminding me about mental health resources throughout and after my treatment,” Tompkins said. “I was required to meet with a social worker in the radiation oncology office right before I started treatment, but I was so overwhelmed by my diagnosis and all my other appointments that I never took the time to meet with her again. I thought I was fine, but when my 3-year diagnosis anniversary hit, I started having daily panic attacks.

To cope with the panic attacks, Tompkins took the recommendations of her medical team and found an outlet to talk about her cancer. She began a Youtube channel called Life as a Cancer Survivor and she creates videos to both share what she’s been through, introduce other survivors, and talk about topics other survivors face like menopause, colonoscopy, follow-up scans, living with an ostomy and more.

“When I started talking openly about my struggles on social media I had a lot of my cancer friends reach out and share they too were going through many of the same things,” she said. “Having others to turn to that are going through the same struggles has helped me feel less alone and that community has been priceless.”

To learn more about the Fight CRC’s survey and summary of unmet needs for those affected by colorectal cancer and mental health resources for colorectal cancer patients visit fightcrc.org.