Cancer and depression – a vicious cycle

depression pic

It’s been a while since I have poured out my soul to you.

I have missed the comfort in knowing that there is always someone there who is ready and willing to listen to my cancer banter.

Before I dive into this post, I want to make it a point to blog much more regularly. Although it is not January; therefore, this is not really a new year’s resolution in the strict sense of the word, it is a resolution of mine nonetheless. One that I hope to adhere to.

A brief update on what has kept me silenced in the shadows: lethargy, a bout of depression, and a project with Princess Margaret Hospital (which I will post links to once it is released).

The lethargy seems pretty self-explanatory – the nasty little buggers in my lungs can tend to make you feel zonked and fatigued. As for the depression, this is a bit more complex in nature.

Cancer can lead to depression. This is not rocket science.

A cancer diagnosis can cause feelings of sadness and depression at various stages of the cancer journey which can at times become debilitating.

There are the initial feelings of depression when one is first diagnosed. These feelings tend to subside after a while, especially when one is on the road to recovery or in remission.

However, the situation is much more complicated when dealing with metastatic cancer. In these cases, the cancer is incurable and therefore the goal of the medical community is not to cure, but rather to slow down progression and stabilize disease. As a result, these individuals tend to have bouts of depression that come and go.

For me, I hadn’t really realized that I was beginning to become entangled in the web of depression until it actually had me all wrapped up.

When I was first diagnosed with metastatic disease, I was speechless. Then the depression hit me, leaving me feeling like I had been hit by a truck. Thankfully I have never been hit by a truck, but I would imagine it would make every part of you painfully ache, which is how I felt when I was told that my cancer was incurable. As the depression began to fade I decided that I would put on my “brave face” and try to beat this thing no matter what the medical community or research said.

And I am still on this path. I have not lost sight of my goal.

BUT, every so often I have to steer myself back from the slight detour that lies ahead.

Most recently the detour has been trying to cope with the loss of others whom I have met on this journey who have unfortunately succumbed to their disease.

Lately, I have had a pretty hard time coming to terms with metastatic cancer patients around me dying. It has left me feeling vulnerable.

This is where making “cancer friends” becomes increasingly difficult. On the one hand, it’s cathartic and invaluable to be able to share experiences and advice from others who are in the same situation as yourself. However, the sad reality of making these amazing connections with other cancer patients is that often you must also endure the loss when one of these friends dies.

When I do not see certain individuals frequent the cancer clinic I attend, I want desperately to believe that it is because these individuals are doing so well that they no longer need to come to the clinic for therapy. However, when I snap myself out of my naivety, sadly I realize it is because these individuals did not make it. This is the harsh reality that surrounds metastatic cancer. Many people will die along the way.

As such, you have to be strong enough to deal with this situation more than once, as well as try not to let it hinder your own healing. This is the tricky part.

It’s extremely difficult to remain steadfast in the wake of loss and death.

Once you make a connection with someone, you unwittingly take on their joy as well as their pain. In essence, you become a cheerleader for these individuals, cheering them on in their journeys and wanting them to come out on top. You want them to make it. And when one does not make it, you take it personally. It becomes a blatant reminder of the gravity and severity of metastatic disease. It’s as if there is some neon sign hanging over your head that says “no one is invincible.”

You begin to feel let down.

You begin to question your own mortality and whether you will make it.

You also begin to feel guilty. This becomes an extension of survivor’s guilt whereby you feel bad that you are alive and someone else is not.

It becomes nearly impossible to separate yourself from these feelings.

Cancer leads to depression, and the depression leads to further illness and compromised immunity. It’s not surprising that during my bout of depression, I also battled sickness (I caught some sort of infection). And there you have it folks, the cycle continues.

So how do we break this vicious cycle?

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. No easy answer. Ultimately, you must do what works for you.

The following things have been helping me to pull myself out of this black hole:

1. Meditation – I try to quiet down the chatter going on in my brain that is making me focus on negative emotions.

2. Date nights – Garrett and I have planned some date nights and days whereby we forget about all of the problems in the world and just enjoy the preciousness of life together. You don’t have to be married or in a relationship to take advantage of this, as you can plan dates with your friends, mom/dad, siblings, family, pets, etc.

3. Movies (especially comedies) – most recently I watched “Vacation” (that was a date night, by the way) and despite the not so great reviews, I loved it. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much in a theatre. Ahh, good times.

4. Life – this has a pretty wide scope, but essentially just taking the time to enjoy the little things in life that put a smile on your face. On some days it’s doing something nice for others, or the taste of a nice espresso, or staring at the stars at night (no, not movie stars, the celestial luminous bodies of light in the sky).

5. Sleep – the proper amount of shut-eye has helped to not only regulate my moods, but also help my body to heal (especially when I was feeling run down).

6. A good diet – this has helped to give me the energy boost that I needed when I felt extra fatigued and lethargic, or when I started to feel hopeless. My diet reminded me of my end goal as well as the fact that I needed to continue to focus on my healing.

7. Making time for YOU! – This was essential for me. Although social support is highly valuable, there were days that I just needed to be alone and work through my problems on my own time and on my own terms.

Additionally, I also want to point out that it’s important to remember that just because there is the chance that you may lose “cancer friends” along the way, this does not mean you should shut yourself off from these amazing individuals. Perhaps having you as a friend made their lives more memorable or meaningful, or gave them some hope when they most needed it.

And we all need hope, it’s what gets us through. It is precisely my hope for tomorrow and my continued zest for life that helps me to untangle myself from depression’s web. And it feels good to be free.

Love, health, and happiness.