No one ever told me that cancer could lead to depression.
But if I am being completely honest, I guess no one ever told me a lot of things about cancer. And if I am being even more honest, I can easily ask, how could cancer not lead to depression?
The person I was for 30 years – a healthy, strong-willed, happy-go-lucky woman, ready to change the world – was all the sudden ripped away from me in a few seconds when I heard one word – cancer.
I first noticed the signs of depression in 2009. I had finished 8 rounds of chemo and a lumpectomy for my then Stage 1 breast cancer. I was in the midst of my 36 radiation treatments when I broke down with emotions. I couldn’t shake the sadness that seemed to hang over my every day. The world seemed to be closing in around me.
I certainly couldn’t understand WHY I was like this now…after all, I had just “beaten cancer.” I tried to chalk it all up to me feeling exhausted. Deep down I knew it was something more when even spending time with my husband and 18-month-old son was unbearable and hard.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, so I talked to my oncologist who told me depression is very common in the situation I was in – just out of chemo, surgery and radiation. The fact that my life was never going to be the same really started to sink in.
My doctor started me on Prozac, daily, to help balance my mind. I was able to notice the difference right away. Two weeks in to taking them, I really noticed the difference. I no longer felt the dread of the coming day; in fact, I started to welcome the day!
Then I was deemed cancer-free! But not depression-free. I continued to have these up and down feelings, and just feeling lost in the craziness of life.
I tried to go see a few therapists, but none of them were the right fit for me. So I decided I would do it on my own. I’d talk about concerns with my husband and two of my best friends. I didn’t talk to them all at the same time, nor did I tell all of them everything. I carefully chose who I turned to when I discussed certain worries and feelings.
That worked well until I diagnosed with stage Iv breast cancer. There was no shutting out those feelings.
After I learned I had metastatic breast cancer, I began thinking of how depression reminded me of cancer in many ways. You don’t know you have it in the beginning stages. When you do know you have it, it more than likely has been there for a while, growing into something that needs to be treated. No one really wants to talk about it. I mean the meat of it. If the person you are sharing the news with has no experience of depression, it’s more than likely that she or he won’t understand the extreme sadness that is affecting you.
I have dealt with depression in both good and bad ways. I will admit to sometimes having a glass of wine to just make it go away. But I quickly learned, that making it “go away” wasn’t what I was doing at all – I was putting a Band-Aid over it to hide my emotional wounds. Under the Band-Aid, I was still hurt.
I now see a therapist weekly to talk about my depression.
Some weeks when it gets bad, I give it a number daily to see where I am. I grade myself from 0-10, “0” being great and “10” meaning I’m on the verge of a breakdown. If the number stays high for a week or so, I look into what else is going on. If I get to a 7 or 8, I am on the phone with my therapist, husband, friend – anyone who can help me get through a breakdown.
For me, once I say it out loud, the problem never seems as dark and scary as it did while I was holding it so close.
I want to encourage all of us to be on top of our mental health just like we are on top of our physical health. I know it is a scary place to go into your emotions, but so much strength and truth can come once you dig out of the muck.
Renee Sendelbach is a 36-year-old wife, mom, daughter, sister and so much more than her stage IV cancer. Renee write and creates inspirational art to help her heal from cancer and hopes to help others with it as well.