Depression and anxiety are common responses to a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. You may feel overwhelmed by your cancer or that your life has been overtaken by treatment. Making treatment choices, finding the time and money for medical care and communicating with family members and friends can add stress as well. What's more, certain anticancer medications may contribute to feelings of anxiety and symptoms of depression.
On top of being depressed or anxious, you may also feel a sense of guilt for feeling the way you do. Some people undergoing treatment may not feel as good as they expected to during or after treatment and, even though they try, are unable to feel grateful or happy about their progress. This leads to feelings of guilt for not appreciating how hard others are working to help them while they can't help themselves.
Don't ignore any of these feelings while you undergo cancer therapy. Treatment for depression has proven benefits for people living with cancer. Studies show that people who are depressed and have a serious illness are more likely to suffer more severe symptoms of both the depression and the illness. Researchers also have some evidence that treating depression can result in a better outcome (prognosis) for the disease.
Recognizing Signs of Depression
Not everyone experiences the same symptoms of depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, signs of depression include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and anxiety
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness, guilt or helplessness
- Sleep disturbances or excessive sleeping
- Overeating or a loss of appetite
- A loss of interest in hobbies or activities that you once enjoyed
- An inability to focus or concentrate, make decisions or remember details
- Headaches, stomachaches or digestive problems, cramps and other aches and pains that don't respond to treatment
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Seek medical advice if your symptoms or mood doesn't improve over time. If you're feeling anxious, sad or depressed during most of every day for two weeks, ask your doctor for help and guidance.
Getting Help for Depression
There are many sources of help available to patients and caregivers. You can reach out to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Information Specialists at (800) 955-4572 or your healthcare team for guidance and referrals to other sources of help such as support groups, counseling services or community programs.
The National Institute of Mental Health has several publications about depression that may be helpful as well.
What You Can Do
While it's important that you discuss your depression and anxiety with your doctor and get professional help, there are also some things you can do to help yourself:
- Understand that your cancer doesn't define who you are. Be in touch and connect with people and activities that are separate from your cancer diagnosis. You are more than a cancer patient, and there are many more aspects to your life than cancer.
- Set small, manageable goals. For example, if you find it hard to get out of bed, set a goal of accomplishing just one thing a day: Make a phone call, cook dinner, take a walk — whatever works best for you.
- Don't isolate yourself. Try to have social interaction at least once a day with someone outside of the healthcare community.
- Strive for some light physical activity. It can be as simple as going outside to the mailbox each day. Gradually build up the amount of activity you can handle.
- Try to engage in activities beyond the cancer experience. Read a magazine article, listen to a book on tape, watch a sitcom. Whether what you do is mundane or meaningful, the point is to get your mind off of how you feel.