Cancer and Depression

“… I needed to talk about how I felt with someone. I had kept these feelings very hidden from everyone who cared about me. My husband and I went to our doctor. The first thing the doctor did was explain that the reason I felt so miserable was actually a common side effect of my breast cancer treatment. He explained that it was actually a physical reaction to the treatment and consequently I was suffering from depression.” — from the personal story of Jean Lee, “Feeling Blue”, The Beacon, Issue 45

Depression and Cancer can go hand in hand.  But you don't have to fight either alone.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and though we see a great deal of news about treatment for the physical aspect of cancer, we’d like to highlight a side of cancer that is not as discussed:  the emotional toll.  A German study confirms patients and families know all too well: cancer takes a toll on not just your body, but also your mind.

In the study, researchers interviewed over 2,000 cancer patients and found that almost 1/3rd experienced a clinically significant amount of depression, anxiety, or other mental health problem. The mental health issues varied by type of cancer as well. Those with breast, head and neck cancer were the most likely to suffer from emotional issues.

Even though the findings may seem self-evident, Dr. David Spiegel, who works with cancer patients at Stanford’s Center for Integrative Medicine, says it is only in recent years that doctors are viewing the mental side effects of cancer as being something they could treat, and not just “an unwelcome side effect of having cancer.” Still, he says, it’s important for patients to seek care for their mental health. “Some people think that admitting you’re sad or fearful is like giving up, and that’s just not true,” Spiegel said. “Depression is treatable, but if you don’t talk about it, then you’re just alone with your fears.”

If you’re suffering, it’s time to reach out. For more information on how to access counseling as a cancer patient or survivor, there are many options online. Start by visiting CancerCare or the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

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