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Rhea Sengupta on her last day of chemotherapy, June 2018

Rhea cried for days on end and had little interest in anything. Her thoughts were clouded with despair. One day, overwhelmed by her feelings, she ran onto the porch and threw our patio chairs at the fence, then inconsolably wept.

This all began at the start of 2018, when Rhea was diagnosed with breast cancer at Markham Stouffville Hospital, four days after her son’s first birthday. It was a devastating moment for her young family. It meant Rhea would face 18 months of rigorous treatment, and indefinite uncertainty.

It was a lot to process. At first, Rhea thought: I’ve got this. But she didn’t realize the heavy toll a cancer diagnosis, the side effects of treatment, plus the constant gnawing fear that she wouldn’t live to see her two kids grow up, would take on her mental health.

By her second month of chemotherapy, she couldn’t eat and was having panic attacks. “I couldn’t even play with my kids, says Rhea. “Every time we had what should have been a happy interaction, I thought: what if this is the last time. ”

Still, she was in denial about her mental health. “I didn’t believe therapy would do much for me,” says Rhea. She thought, “My problem is cancer, not mental health.” Then one day, Rhea found herself appealing to the nurses in The Shakir Rehmatullah Cancer Clinic at MSH: “I’m not okay,” Rhea cried. “I need help.” It was at that moment that she realized that her anxiety, depression, and fear might cost her her life.

Rhea was referred to MSH’s Outpatient Mental Health Team, and together, they got through the worst time in her life. “I was in freefall; they were my safety net,” says Rhea. “I was supported by a crisis worker and my amazing psychotherapist. I enrolled in a 20-week interpersonal psychotherapy women’s group at MSH and finished the program armed with many new coping strategies and new friends, who I am still in touch with today.”

And then there’s her cancer care team: “I can’t say enough good things about my surgeon, oncologist, nurses, office administrators, and volunteers,” says Rhea. “Throughout my treatment, I felt so well cared for. The nurses and doctors told me jokes, hugged me, and supported me. We cried together when I rang the bell after my last chemotherapy treatment.”

Today, Rhea is doing much better. Her thoughts are with the many people who are struggling right now; like any health crisis, the pandemic is taking a toll on our mental health, and many of us now need support that we never predicted we would need.

MSH is doing extraordinary things in mental health. They plan to expand their inpatient and outpatient mental health services to meet the demand in our community. With increasing pressure due to the current pandemic, that demand is greater than ever.

Help patients like Rhea get the support and treatment they desperately need. MSH is committed to being there for our community. Now is the time to invest in mental health. MSH needs your help.

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Rhea and her family