Depression after Cancer
This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I am well aware of the psychological challenges when treatment concludes, and know that depression and elevated anxiety are too often the companions of the months of recovery. My observation is that women who manage the months of treatment well, who basically put their heads down and just get through it, are often shocked by the after-effects (maybe should call them the "after shocks" as in earthquakes). I think that every woman with breast cancer, actually every person with cancer, is certain to have an emotionally difficult time at some point, and, if you have held it off, it likely will catch up when things begin to settle down.
Many of you know that I have written a book about this period: After Breast Cancer: A Commonsense Guide to Life after Treatment. It is available on amazon, many book stores, libraries, etc. It gets good reviews, and I recommend it to you.
In addition to the delayed distress, there are other factors which make the post treatment period difficult. It takes a long time, usually as long as the total duration of treatment, to feel really well both physically and emotionally. This is an unpleasant surprise to many women who expect a much more rapid return to full good health. It is also unknown and ignored by most of the people around us who fully expect us to resume our usual routines asap. In truth, most of those friends and family members have extended themselves to be supportive, and now are more than ready to return to their own lives without excess worry about us. Feeling tired and worried and sad may worry us more, and it becomes as escalating series of feelings. We have probably come to depend on frequent visits and conversations with our caregivers, and it suddenly feels scary to be cut off from those close contacts. If radiation is the final treatment, the change is especially dramatic as you go from daily visits to none.
Here is the promise: It does get better, but it takes time. What helps is acceptance of all the intense and sometimes crazy-seeming feelings, gentle self care, some indulgences, resuming mild regular exercise, and greatly lowered expectations. If you are in the Boston area, I have a wonderful support group for women who have completed treatment. We would welcome you.
This essay by Heather Millar is from Web MD. Ms Millar describes real depression after treatment, the kind of depression that responds to medications and can surely be helped that way. Most certainly, most women do not need that kind of intervention, but do need reassurance that their feelings are normal. Here is the beginning and then a link:
Friday, July 25, 2012
Expect the Blues, and Know There's Help
When I finished the toughest part of my treatment about a year ago, I expected to feel elated. After all, the surgeries, chemo, and radiation were over. And I did feel happy,for about a day after that last radiation session.
Then, the dark cloud fell over me. For a few weeks, just getting out of bed was a major triumph. I had trouble organizing my thoughts. I didn't feel like I was worth anything.
I didn't want to do anything or see anyone.
I knew I was depressed. Doctors and support group members had told me that the toughest patch often comes when all the bustle and drama of treatment is over. Plus, depression runs in my family and I've taken a mild anti-depressant for decades. But I was unprepared for the magnitude of this depression. It was not just the blahs. No sir, it was BIG. And despite my knowledge and experience of depression, I reacted passively. Maybe
that was part of the depression; I don't know. In any case, I was slow to take action, and that is not like me at all.