Q: Ever since my mastectomy I've been a wreck - I can't sleep and I'm distant from my kids and my husband. They say the cancer is gone, but I can't shake the fear. What can I do?
LAUREN J., MONTPELLIER, VT.
A: You've been through a stressful experience. It's natural to feel turmoil. But the emotions you're describing may be more than the expected ups and downs of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment (and they're plenty distressing).
Turns out that 25 percent of breast cancer survivors, 20 percent of those who've had spinal fusion and many others who've been in intensive-care units exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, such as nightmares, anxiety, an exaggerated startle response, emotional detachment and flashbacks to unsettling moments.
Illness-related PTSD develops from a combination of psychological upset (particularly among people who have a severe illness, additional health problems or are without economic resources) and purely physical trauma. Treatments and medications can disrupt the body's biochemical balance, throwing off hormone function and interfering with neurotransmitter production.
Fortunately, cutting-edge research is revealing ways to prevent and ease PTSD; you may find them to be helpful.
Æ Try to express your worry as you feel it. If you're uncomfortable telling your family about your fears, enlist the help of a counselor.
Æ If possible, continue to be physically active before and after your medical procedure or treatment.
Æ Take up meditation. Just 10 minutes a day of mindfulness can give you the sense of peace you seek.
Æ And most important, talk with other people who have gone through what you're going through.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.