How to cope with breast cancer and depression

Most women will dream of the day a handsome doctor tells them those three little words. They never expected them to be, “It’s breast cancer.” What do we do with that information? For some women, it will mark the beginning of the end of their lives. For all of them, it’s the start of the most stressful and trying period they’ll ever go through. No one wants to battle cancer, and it’s not a war you get to opt into. Rather, it attacks you when you least expect it and can leave you feeling depleted and lifeless before you even digest the diagnosis.

Depression

Women who recover from cancer have a 70 percent increased risk of depression in the first year of remission compared to peers who did not battle cancer. It isn’t uncommon to fall into a period of depression when battling cancer. Your life is at stake. It might not work out, and you have loved ones to worry about. They may want to perform a mastectomy. What will that mean? What will you look like? Will he still be attracted to you? What about their feelings? Your family’s? Who will help them if you don’t make it through this? That’s more than enough for the healthiest person to worry about, let alone someone who is fighting to stay alive.

Sometimes, life’s downfalls hit us hard enough to knock us off kilter. News like this could send anyone into a tailspin of depression. You have to fight back with all you’ve got and you still don’t get any guarantees. Even when the cancer is overcome, there will always be a higher risk for you that it will return than someone else. It doesn’t exactly seem to be fair. We stare back at the world — at our life — in such a way that asks why me, and it is that very kind of outlook that makes depression all the more likely.

Recovering

So, what do you do when you’re trying to stay alive and fight this disease that has attacked not only your health but your emotions? When depression follows breast cancer, there’s still hope. Don’t lose sight of that. You’ll want to step out of the oncology ward and into your regular doctor’s office or, a psychiatrist’s office.

It sounds daunting. A psychiatrist. It isn’t. They’re available for talk therapy and you can unleash on them for hours about what this diagnosis is putting you through and how the way your family looks at you makes you feel like you’re already gone. The benefit of a psychiatrist over a psychologist is that they can write prescriptions. Yes, sometimes medications are needed. You might think you’ve got that front covered with the cancer meds, but antidepressants can help pull you through some of the lowest days you’ll face on your way to remission. That’s how you should be looking at it. You’re just on your way to someplace better — on your way to a healthier you. It may get worse before it gets better, but therapy can teach you coping mechanisms like dialectical behavioral therapy, meditation and more to get you where you need to be.

Cite this page: Danielle Bosley, "How to cope with breast cancer and depression," in PsychologyDictionary.org, January 30, 2017, https://psychologydictionary.org/article/how-to-cope-with-breast-cancer-and-depression/ (accessed September 22, 2019).
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