We interviewed Charissa Bloomberg, who is known as a Celebrity Psychologist and Integrity Specialist. You might know her from appearances on Radio 702 and Cape Talk, just to name a few.
Could you briefly tell the listeners what started your passion for Cancer Awareness?
My grandmother died of breast cancer many years ago and did not have access to the amazing technology that we have available today. As a result, she had to have a double mastectomy.
Being a psychologist in the field and being able to provide people with support through such a hectic time of their lives also makes me passionate.
Could you explain what happens at the point when a person gets diagnosed with cancer? What will the process be like for them emotionally and how can people prepare themselves to understand what is happening to them?
When there is a diagnosis of cancer to a patient or to a family member, it has a profound effect on the person. The person’s life literally changes from that moment onwards.
It is the beginning of a long journey that can affect the health and mental and physical well-being of the person. It can also affect them financially and spiritually.
I would like to discuss some of the emotions that a person could experience during this stage.
The first thing we need to realize is that the affected person/people often experience absolute denial.
Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, an amazing woman who did work in this field, identified five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
The first stage, denial, is the shockwave. You cannot believe it. Your first thought is: “The doctor must be wrong. Let’s go and find another doctor. This cannot be happening. This is absolutely impossible. There must be a mistake. Let’s have another X-ray or what if we did this or that?’’
But these thoughts are so important, because they protect the person who’s not really ready to go through the grieving process.
Psychologists will tell you that, when the patient is in denial, he/she will stay in denial as long as they need to.
The next stage is anger. This is the first part of healing during which they are furious. They are furious with themselves, with God, the universe and everything else.
They ask themselves: ‘’Why has this happened?’’
Next is the bargaining stage during which they will ask God to cure them.
Then the ‘’if’s’’ start; ‘’If I do this diet, then I will be cured.’’ Or, ‘’If I am a good person and do charity work, then God will heal me.’’
Whatever the condition, it’s a bargaining process.
After the bargaining comes depression. During this stage patients realise that there is nothing they can do, which fills them with depression.
Depression is really, grief. It’s the loss of your previous life. What you were focusing on has now changed.
It’s not necessarily the end of one’s life, but the feeling of depression is very difficult to deal with.
The last stage is acceptance. During this stage you are okay with whatever it is you’re going through.
The sad thing is that we do not know how long a person stays in each of these stages. You could stay in depression and then go back to anger.
Sadly, family members can go through a different stage than a patient. While a patient could be in the stage of acceptance, the entire family could still be dealing with anger or bargaining, even denial.
Supporting patients inappropriately could have a devastating effect. How can we help people who have been diagnosed in an appropriate manner?
When a patient is diagnosed, we have to be aware that they are not only dealing with what has happened to them, but they are also dealing with the reactions of family, friends, loved ones and sometimes even colleagues. The patient has a lot to deal with.
When someone tells us that they have and are dealing with cancer and are struggling with their health, we often do not know what to say. We often say: “Say your prayers”, or :Go on this great diet”, or ‘’I heard about this’’, or ‘’If you meditate.’’
The person providing the advice means well, but when we make these recommendations we are projecting our own fears and thoughts around death, and we don’t know how to help the person with cancer.
Sometimes our comments are completely inappropriate, even condescending. The best thing that you can do is to say: “I am so sorry. I’m here for you. How can I help? Are there any errands? Is there anything you need me to take care of? What can I do for you?” These are the questions that we should be asking.
Could you go a little bit deeper and explain the disconnect between loved ones, the supporters and the actual person going through diagnosis.
We don’t know how long someone remains in a stage. Every person feels differently and processes it differently.
The patient could be stuck in an anger stage for a long time, lashing out at the world and the universe. They could be furious with God, the world and everything else and we don’t know if it will last weeks or months.
This process is, however, very necessary for healing before they can actually go into the next stages.
While the patient and family members are going through this stage, everybody’s angryl. This prevents them to focus on educating themselves on cancer.
What can we do? How can we empower ourselves to stop being angry?
This is extremely difficult, but if we can recognize this stage, it’s far more empowering.
It starts with awareness. It is important to realise what you are going through and what emotion you are feeling. Awareness of what the family is going through at that moment is important as well.
It is also important to get external psychological help. Not everyone can afford a psychologist, but maybe they can get support in the church or a friend or someone that they feel comfortable speaking to.
You can help them get through these stages and grow.
Although it is empowering to be aware of which stage a patient is going through, it is important that you do not try to force them through to the next stage.
Depression should also be taken into consideration when providing support. It is possible to come out of depression with acceptance and not get stuck.
This is, however, a long process. There is no overnight fix.
How does stress or anxiety impact the different stages?
Being Diagnosed puts an immense amount of stress on the person. They are anxious and worried, which does not help the healing process.
Research has found that stress can actually make the tumor grow faster. Therefore we have to pay attention to their stress and anxiety and help them to learn to contain it and do things that are going to nourish the soul.
For example, eating properly, getting enough sleep, support, meditation, listening to music, exercising (maybe just gentle exercise), walking and being in nature. It is highly stressful to have cancer but it is not a death sentence and millions of people walking around are survivors of cancer.
How patients deal with it mentally is going to have a great impact and it is, therefore, crucial to do as much as possible research about stress.
The effect of stress on our immune system and metabolism is a killer in itself.
What are some practical tips that you feel would be relevant to people dealing with cancer right now? How can they implement it and how will it make a difference to them?
It is so easy to be a victim. For those of us who are healthy, it is very difficult to place ourselves in the shoes of someone who is battling cancer.
It is fine to be a victim at some point but we need to be conscious of it. A patient can decide to be in victim mode for a day, but they must be able to pull themselves out of it and stand up the next day.
Patients need to be aware of the impact of their thoughts because if they stop thinking, it’s a death sentence.
Thoughts influence you because your body reacts to your mind. The body has a reaction to everything that the mind thinks. That is why it is so crucial to get support. It is the first step because those who don’t get support are known to have the highest suicide rate. It’s just as simple as that. That’s what the statistics say.
You need support. You need to be able to communicate. You have to be able to discuss your fears and what you are going through. It’s crucial. So many times families try to hide from each other what they are going through, but we need to talk about it.
Be aware of toxic thoughts because your mind could be your worst killer.
I know an amazing motivational speaker who has had a tumor and had half his brain cut out and he is brilliant. I also know someone struggling with lung cancer who has survived and came out of it better than ever. What they all have in common is that they refuse to be a victim and in their mind. They knew they were going to recover. That was it for them. They were going to fight this with everything.
One of the most important things is to also have a good relationship with your doctor. Your doctor needs to know what is going on with you all the time. And the doctor needs to know your anxieties, financial struggles and any other relevant information , because that is going to impact on your health.
Read everything you can on the topic. Be knowledgeable and empower yourself. I think those are the crucial tips that stand out for me.
You’re a celebrity psychologist and an integrity specialist. Tell us what that is like for you?
I’m fighting the fight of integrity to rebuild our nation. Many people do not have the value of integrity in the work and business environment, because they don’t really know what it means.
Briefly, having integrity is being professional. It is speaking your truth. It is doing what you say you are going to do. It is about doing the right thing for yourself and for everyone. If we all did the right thing, we would have a better world to live in.
The most important thing with a cancer diagnosis is to do the right thing for yourself. So, be truthful with yourself and be accountable to yourself first and foremost. We cannot be lying to ourselves and to others.
How would anyone go about learning more about you and what you do?
Make sure you check out your so she is amazing like this short time that I have with her today doesn’t express how amazing she is. She stands for something super amazing. It’s about doing the right thing. To learn more about the Cancer Awareness on inspiring women, you can find all the related episodes