Cancer & Emotions Part III: A Guide for Patients and Family – depression and anxiety during cancer treatment
You’ve been diagnosed, you’re going through treatment, seeing (too many) doctors, going back and forth, appointments, prescriptions, health insurance phone calls. All of a sudden, the enormity and terror of it all hits you like a ton of bricks. Your life has changed so drastically that you don’t even recognize it. Depression and anxiety during cancer treatment hits everyone, often in unexpected ways.
As if all of these this weren’t enough, you’re lying in bed at night (or first thing when you wake up in the morning) after an overwhelmingly “busy” and appointment-filled day and that feeling hits you. That empty, helpless, scared feeling; deep down in your gut. That worried “What am I going to do?” feeling.
Normal Reaction to Abnormal Situation
This (what I have described) is so common. It is actually the most common occurrence that people diagnosed with cancer describe. That’s if and when they get around to describing it because there is an unsolved mystery surrounding mental health: In general, people just don’t want to talk about it. The brave ones who do, tell strikingly similar stories, which means that depression and anxiety during cancer treatment is often part of the typical “package” of dealing with cancer. You are not alone.
Not Your Fault, Is Your Challenge
Things can get a little confusing too because sometimes it’s hard to tease out where the depression and anxiety are coming from. What is causing the symptoms is important because that will lead to a clearer understanding of how to treat the emotions and feelings. The majority of people think, “It’s me, there’s something wrong with me,” when in reality depression and anxiety during cancer treatment can occur due to a variety of reasons.
One reason is that some medications and specific treatments have depression and/or anxiety as part of their side-effect profile! If this reason is ruled-out, then maybe it is “you.” But I have news for you: if the depression and/or anxiety is coming from within you, then congratulations you are a normal human being. Experiencing depression and anxiety is a normal part of the diagnosis and treatment process.
It might be easier for you to understand this concept if you think of the opposite scenario: Imagine someone undergoing cancer treatment and not feeling depressed or anxious. Aside from this being very weird, it’s also not normal. You would think that this person is either in complete denial or that something else is seriously wrong. I know that we are all different and everyone reacts differently to change and stress, but the take home message here is that becoming depressed and anxious during cancer treatment is your body’s way of processing everything that’s going on. It’s a normal response to an abnormal situation.
What You Can Do Now
Keep in mind that although it’s normal and part of the “process,” depression and anxiety during cancer treatment can be addressed and alleviated. Your physical health is not the only thing that cancer has touched. Your mind and in fact the very heart and soul of you at your core need healing, too. You can use this depression and anxiety to aid your entire healing process, to help you grow stronger, and to help you learn the skills you need to face not only this illness, but also life and all the ups, downs, surprises, changes, and challenges that life has in store. This is a special strength that not everyone has the opportunity to build on because not everyone has been given this challenge that you are faced with.
I work with cancer patients and their loved one. It’s a passion and a path. If you or someone you know’s life has been touched by cancer, please consider sharing my information with them.
“Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns, and relax into the world. No need to resist life; just do your best. Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you imagine.”
Dan Millman, Author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior