A Focus on Mental Health when Facing Cancer

The importance of mental health has never been more prevalent than it is today. Not only have doctors and scientists spent years studying its importance, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made the general public much more cognizant of keeping tabs on the mental health not only of themselves, but of friends and family.

As difficult as the pandemic has been for the mental health of many, imagine being a teenager undergoing cancer treatment. Your world has already been rocked with a cancer diagnosis, and now there are so many other uncertainties due to the pandemic.

That’s exactly what happened to 16-year-old Nicholas Melomo, who is currently undergoing cancer treatment. In addition to the mental toll of having to undergo chemotherapy and not knowing what his future holds, he is also cut off from the personal interactions of everyday life.

“During my stays at the hospital, the most jarring precaution was how isolated I had to be. For months I wasn’t even allowed to go outside my room, and even in my room, I had to wear a mask every time the doctors came in,” said Melomo. “I understand why, but it just added more stress to an already stressful situation.”

Staying in good spirits and keeping his mind off cancer and the pandemic is a focus for Melomo. He likes to create videos to document his experience and draw. He also has regular virtual meetings with his therapist.

Kathryn Brown is a licensed therapist in California who specializes in adolescents facing anxiety and depression. While not his therapist, she’s seen the toll taken on teens in stressful situations similar to Melomo’s and has no doubts that the COVID-19 pandemic is the cause.

The pandemic helped push knowledge about mental health forward because we saw a tremendous spike in depression and anxiety among kids and teens. There were a lot of factors, but when kids are isolated in their homes, it takes away multiple connections to positive relationships.

Kathryn Brown

Brown notes that working with a sense of the unknown can make kids or teens feel powerless against anxiety or depression, and one way to combat that is to be up front and make them a part of the team. “Children and teens are incredibly perceptive. We see a big jump in resiliency when they have clear communication and aren’t on an island coping by themselves,” said Brown.

Cancer treatment is not easy. But for young people like Melomo, going through it during the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more difficult. Only one parent can be with him during treatment and he is allowed no visitors. His interaction with friends is mostly over texts, all while dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy.

As the world works together to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that cancer does not stop. And the mental health of cancer patients, especially young ones, needs to remain a focus as we move forward. Reach out to a friend. Text or call someone you know going through something difficult. That small effort could make a big difference.