Cancer and Depression

Cancer pain relief in New Jersey is a topic of national debate and education. Cancer patients and their families want expanded access to treatment options. They also want to know how to overcome barriers to advanced pain therapies; and what changes are taking place in their areas, as patiens may have broader treatment options in some states than others. They also want to help their loved one during his or her time of crisis. People believe that cancer and depression go hand in hand, however that is not the case says the American Cancer Society.

One of the biggest myths about cancer is that being depressed is an inevitable part of the disease. Not so, says the National Cancer Institute. In fact, while it’s perfectly normal for people with cancer to experience some degree of sadness and grief, clinical depression strikes only 15 to 25 percent of cancer patients.

You may be clinically depressed if…

  • you feel sad or empty
  • you’ve lost interest in ordinary activities
  • you suffer from decreased energy
  • you’ve lost your appetite
  • you’ve noticed changes in sleeping habits
  • you have difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
  • you’re plagued by feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • you cry a lot
  • you think about death or suicide

The key to staying well – physically and emotionally – is recognizing the difference between “normal” degrees of sadness and a more serious, debilitating depression. Learning that you have cancer almost always produces feelings of loss and a sense of disbelief, denial or despair. These emotions may depend if the cancer progresses or after treatment has ended.

When a particular kind of cancer of disfiguring treatment affects your identity or self-esteem, you’re likely to feel sad or depressed. For instance, losing your hair during chemotherapy can make you feel low. If you’re a woman, losing a breast may threaten your femininity. And if you’re a man, you may find the idea of prostate surgery unnerving.

What’s more, certain cancers – such as pancreatic or brain cancer – can actually cause depression to set it. And some cancer medications, such as chemotherapy drugs and antinausea remedies, can have a depressive effect. So it’s not always easy to tell if your depression is associated with the cancer itself or its treatment, if it’s a temporary emotional reaction or if it’s a sign of something more serious. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Seek professional help if your symptoms last longer than two weeks.

The good news is that there are many ways to treat depression successfully. Therapy may include antidepressants, one-on-one counseling or a combination approach. Sometimes sharing your problems in a support group can ease your emotional burden. And remember, even though you may feel alone, you’re surrounded by others who love and care about you. Withdrawing from family and friends will only compound feelings of sadness and isolation.

Some people find that relaxation therapy, meditation, or hypnosis help. And still others find solace in prayer or by talking to their clergymen. The most important thing to remember is that there is no reason to suffer. Prolonged depression can destroy the quality of your life and make it much more difficult – or impossible to make sensible, educated decisions about your healthcare. But once the depression has lifted, so too will its debilitating symptoms. At that point, you can reclaim your life and enjoy each day to its fullest.

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