Thoughts on Cancer Depression

Kaboom (2003) ceramic, raku, glaze Artist: JParadisi photo: David Forinash

      An oncology patient came in on a low ebb last week. His treatment was long, the fatigue bad, and he told me this was not one of his better days, he was depressed. People going through cancer treatment know there are good days, not so good days, and “today I’m going to lie in bed in fetal position with the blankets pulled over my head” days. He talked out his feelings with me, and said he felt better about things before he left.

     Most cancer patients, including myself, chant the same mantra throughout treatment:  “I just want my life back.” Once remission occurs, and treatment is completed, we think everything will go back to the way it was before B.C. (Before Cancer). Later, we realize that our lives, as we knew them, don’t really exist anymore.

     I was in treatment for breast cancer about 18 months. Previously, I’d enjoyed my house, gardens, and my life before cancer.  After treatment, however, I was only partially joking when I’d say, “If I could afford to be frivolous, I’d light a match, and burn it all down.” There was something cleansing about the idea of fire.
     Anyway, because I’m a nurse, and because I’ve watched others go through life-changing events, I waited it out, and stayed in the house for another year or so. When I still felt like burning it down, instead, I gave away or sold most of my possessions, sold the house, and moved into a new, modified version of my life, which I feel expresses the changes I experienced more clearly. Not everyone is able to change their life so drastically, nor should they, but it’s been almost 10 years now, and I have no regrets. I wasn’t experiencing depression after treatment; it was profound introspection, the gift that sometimes comes from having one’s life footing shaken.
     The caveat given to me by another survivor is this: “You are allowed to lie in bed in fetal position with the blankets over your head for 3 days, after that, you have to call for help.”