Utah cancer center study shows patients’ need for mental health treatment

SALT LAKE CITY — New research out of the Huntsman Cancer Institute shows the need for more mental health treatment when it comes to patients, particularly those with Hodgkin Lymphoma diagnoses.

“I was diagnosed May 5th with Hodgkin Lymphoma,” said Gretchen Baldwin, a registered nurse working at Memorial Hospital in Rock Springs, Wyoming. “I wish people would talk more about it. When you think of cancer, you think of people losing their hair or whatnot, but going through cancer, it really opened my eyes of what you really go through.”

She was just out of nursing school and right during the pandemic, going through 12 cycles of chemotherapy over the course of six months at the Huntsman Cancer Center in Salt Lake City, and is now in remission.

“People think, ‘Oh you’re in remission, you don’t think about cancer anymore,’ but no, it’s on my mind every single day,” Baldwin said.

She says she gets overly anxious when coming down with a cold or some simple aidment, worried it may be cancer coming back.

“It’s such an appropriate response to have stress, anxiety and depression about such a life-changing diagnosis as cancer, even if you’re told this is a good prognosis [and] you’re going to do well,” said Dr. Randa Tao with the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Tao’s findings were recently published in the American Cancer Society Journalsand are focused on an increased risk of mental health diagnoses and potential substance abuse later in life for Hodgkin Lymphoma patients.

“It’s surprising, but it’s not. It just makes complete sense,” Tao said.

She says this particular type of cancer is one of the most curable, striking many patients, like Baldwin, when they’re young with their whole lives ahead of them.

“There’s been so many studies done on just the physical effects of cancer, but nobody has explored the topic of psychosocial mental health well-being, so I think this an important first step,” Tao said.

Tao says she hopes this may change the way doctors treat their patients, expanding their care to include the mental health component.

“As physicians, we need to be more aware of that, and think of ways that we can better support patients’ mental health in addition to all the things we try to do to support their physical health,” she said.

It’s something Baldwin says she’d like to see more of as she goes through her own emotional rollercoaster from the moment she was diagnosed to even now after treatments, and as she helps others in her role and with her own wedding, once postponed, now set to happen in just two weeks.

“If I could tell someone who’s going through it, I would start earlier, you know, talking to someone. Getting that support earlier rather than later,” she said.

The full study can be found here.

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