For those who are fighting a battle with Cancer, physical health tends to be top priority. Between hundreds of scans, tests, injections, check-ups and appointments, it’s easy to get caught up in how your body is handling and reacting to all that’s going on. And it’s just as easy to forget that your mind has to handle this all too.
This is exactly the issue that mental health counselor Stephanie Sabga and the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society hope to address. With the Cancer Society’s help, Stephanie is offering counseling services to those who utilise the society’s services: cancer patients, survivors, and family members.
“Cancer affects everybody – there’s not a group of people that cancer neglects. We’re all touched by cancer, even if it’s a family member or friend,” explained Stephanie. “And in the same way, mental health affects everybody.”
But for Stephanie, who runs her own private therapy practice, she wasn’t expecting to get involved in this at all – and an invitation to speak at the Cancer Survivors’ annual Christmas lunch at the end of last year turned into an amazing opportunity for her. After a nearly two-hour presentation about experiencing mental health as a cancer survivor, she was asked to join the Cancer Society board. It was through her newly acquired position that she found herself taking on a new role: the head of counseling for the T&T Cancer Society.
“There’s a lot affecting cancer patients, besides just physical treatments,” Stephanie added. “Especially because sometimes it can feel like a cancer diagnosis is a death sentence – which it does not have to be.”
In fact, that’s why the survivors’ group was formed in the first place: as living testimony that there is life after cancer. But besides that, it’s a support group for those who have gone through similar trials, especially as they’re no longer physically sick, but still experience some struggles. One in particular? Survivor’s guilt. Stephanie says this is one of the issues that most cancer survivors feel once they’re in remission – a guilt for being healthy again, while friends and co-patients may still be fighting, or worse – may have lost their battle.
Besides that, feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, self-consciousness and just feeling a lack of understanding are many of the mental health struggles that cancer patients may experience, both those who are currently diagnosed and those in remission. Stephanie thinks it’s important that the Society has these resources readily available, because it’s highly unlikely that patients will seek out mental healthcare themselves.
“It’s really great that the Cancer Society is not only dealing with the physical illness,” she said. “But also reaching out to them so that they have the outlet to get the help that they may need mentally.”
But the Cancer Society is often over-looked as a resource for cancer patients and their family, but they have the resources to help people – and at an affordable cost. In fact, it’s a subsidized healthcare system for cancer patients, that offers private-quality healthcare without the associated high costs.
Along with a fully functional office, equipped with the best of the best doctors, therapists and care staff, the organisation aims to promote cancer prevention through education and screening for early detection.
Every detail of the Cancer Society has so much thought put into it – even down to the therapy services they offer. Considering that most people may not be able to come into the Port of Spain often enough for counseling services, they’ve also set up phone counseling services – where patients and their family members are able to receive confidential, one-on-one counseling services over the phone. And like all of the other therapy sessions at the Cancer Society, there’s no cost to the client.
For Stephanie, this allows the counseling team to reach even more people than she would in her ‘office hours’ at the Society’s office, and makes it even easier to encourage patients to talk to someone about what they’re going through, feeling and thinking.
“It helps me to reach out to them, be there for them,” Stephanie added. “At the end of the day, if I can help them get by a little bit more on their journey – even if it’s small steps – then I’ll have done my job.”
For most people, they better empathise when they’ve gone through similar experiences. But for Stephanie, who hasn’t had cancer herself, she’s still able to relate to her clients, because she knows that cancer doesn’t just affect the patient, it affects their loved ones too.
“I’ve been personally touched by cancer,” Stephanie explained, for why she’s so passionate about this new project. “My grandmother is a two-time breast cancer survivor, and I lost my grandfather to cancer. So I’ve seen how it affects both the individual and their family.”
Stephanie Sabga is a Masters Degree Level Mental Health Counselor and Marital, Couple and Family Therapist. She is Nationally Certified in the United States and upholds this certification while working in Trinidad. Stephanie has a private practice operating out of Victoria Clinic in Woodbrook and is also the head of the counseling division for the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society. If you would like to contact her, her office number is 220-2898.