Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Depression and Cancer

Today an outstanding article about depression in connection with cancer was posted on FB. Among its statements:

"Unfortunately, many of us are never informed about or evaluated for the symptoms of depression when we are diagnosed with cancer. And we should be. In his website article, Depression and Cancer, journalist, author, blogger and bipolar sufferer John McManamy reports that current studies have found that about “25 percent of cancer patients will experience major depression over the course of their illness. People with cancer are three times more likely than the general population to develop depression, and twice as likely as other hospitalized patients. The greater the pain, the more likely the depression.”

And, in another quote from from Mcmanamy,  "The consequences of untreated depression can be severe.[...]Estimates of cancer patients who take their own lives range from twice the incidence of the general population to ten times."

Naturally, this was of considerable interest to me, since undiagnosed and untreated depression is what so many of us affected by the suicide of loved ones come to understand as the cause of the event which has so altered our own lives.

I was also interested because, a year later, it is clear to me that I suffered from profound depression in the early months of my cancer treatments.  

I was the only person who knew just how profound. 

On the surface, I was extremely busy, preparing for the joyful day of my ordination, and researching my treatment options.     From the doctors' point of view, I was someone with a very early stage and highly treatable cancer.  My family knew that I, like the rest of them, found it extremely difficult to focus on the reality of cancer, serious no matter how small, in the context of Josh's death.  In fact, for me, the worst part of cancer, much worse than the diagnosis, the drastic solution, and the three surgeries, was that Josh did not come home to be with me.  But I don't think even my family knew how quickly that reality sent me into a deep downward spiral of depression.

Early in the course of my care, after a lengthy consultation with a radiologist, I was asked whether I wanted to meet with a social worker in the practice, who happened to be immediately available.  So I had that hour or so of therapeutic conversation, and I have to say, she was outstanding.  I should have gone back to see her.

But, you know, depression . . .  we don't usually recognize it for what it is.  And no one wants to ask.

I think, in retrospect, that it is astonishing that in the course of cancer care in which I consulted over the course of several months with two breast surgeons, a radiologist, and a plastic surgeon,and was treated by three of them, that no one other than that one radiologist ever said to me, a woman who had recently lost a child, "Mental health care might be the most important part of this whole ordeal."

I think it's astonishing that that recommendation isn't made, emphatically, to every cancer patient.

More tomorrow.


  1. Of course. And no one is helped by the relentless pink rah-rah that it's your attitude that matters!

  2. Just last night in our Bible Study class someone said that to me -- that I am an example of how important attitude is. I was appalled; what am I gonna do to rectify that presumption? Last night wasn't the time, but I am horrified to think that people might use me, or anyone else, as an example of how one "should" respond, in lieu of being present to someone who needs a listening ear as she tells the real story.

    You sense of call to spiritual direction for cancer patients makes complete sense.

  3. Absolutely on target, Robin. Much of the medical field has become so compartmentalized. I have found in the congregation I serve...there is a taboo about talking about such things as anger at God, depression, cancer...they put on their masks...and live behind the facade. (and I think expect their pastor to that as well).

  4. Thank you so much for writing this post. As someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer in early August and then a week later told it was an error in reporting and now just last week finding out that indeed there had been a cancerous lump underneath the benign one - well - it's been a roller coaster of a ride and I'm no where near being done yet.

    The biggest thing I have learned about myself so far is that I am done wanting to be a poster child for anything and just want to be me, where ever that finds me on any given day. There are not many people who are okay with that - who are comfortable in their own skin to let me be where I am without the need to give me a pep talk.

    I have read your blog for years and I have been so encouraged in the journey to be where I am at. I appreciate the honesty and vulnerability with which you write. It's like waving a light in the darkness and gives me hope.

    1. Thank you so much for writing, Hope. I skimmed your blog late last night on my phone, and now I am going back to August to start your story in detail. I am so sorry that yopu have been dragged into this experience.