You had your last dose of chemotherapy, or your last radiation treatment.
The surgical scars are beginning to heal. As your energy and confidence
return, you'll be able to explore the many options for moving forward
from the cancer experience, to a new life.
A diagnosis of cancer impacts your self-esteem, your body image,
your sexuality—even your outlook on survival. You probably realize
that life will never be the same after such an experience. This will
leave you with a sense of loss. Take time to grieve the loss. This
grieving process is an important first step toward the healing of
As you try to come to terms with your diagnosis and try to deal with
the impact of your treatment, you are likely to have episodes of anxiety
and depression. It is important for you to be able to distinguish
depression that you can cope with on your own, from depression that
requires professional help.
As is the case for most women undergoing cancer treatment, there
will be times when you are sad—times when you are "feeling
blue." This is called reactive depression—in other words,
you are having an appropriate reaction to your situation. This level
of depression is normal, and most women can cope with it, with help
from family, friends, or support groups.
One method that helps manage anxiety and depression is planning
pleasant activities such as going out with friends or seeing a movie
around the times when you normally feel depressed.
Another approach is exercise and sports. Physical activity stimulates
the body to produce certain chemicals called endorphins that help
restore a sense of well being. Try to get out of your mind and into
your body, so to speak.
Other effective techniques include relaxation and visualization,
described in the chapter on Complementary Therapies.
If you haven't already, consider joining a support group. You should
have no trouble finding one that matches your lifestyle and your particular
needs. You will find a list of resources for referral to support groups
at the end of the book.
There are specific times during the course of treatment and recovery
when bouts of anxiety and depression are more likely to occur.
Most women experience their highest level of anxiety when they come
home from the hospital after surgery, because coming home means leaving
most of the medical team behind and resuming normal activities.
Another time women may feel anxious or depressed is when their chemotherapy
or radiation treatments end. There may be a feeling of panic at the
thought that you are not being treated any more. This post-treatment
anxiety is quite natural, and will gradually diminish as you regain
Some women notice that they are particularly anxious on the anniversary
dates of their diagnosis or surgery. These are the so-called anniversary
reactions. In addition, many women also may have "check up anxiety"
just before their scheduled follow-up visit to the physician.
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There is a form of depression that is unlikely to improve on its own.
Usually it includes continuous feelings of sadness, feelings of worthlessness
or guilt, excessive fear of the future, and lack of interest in intimacy
or sex. This is called clinical depression and requires intervention
by a trained professional.
Clinical depression can be treated. It may involve counseling, medications,
and perhaps physical exercise and stress reduction techniques. Your
physician will be able to refer you to the appropriate specialist.
And remember, you should never feel embarrassed to seek professional
help. It is not a sign of weakness—no more so than going to
a surgeon for a lumpectomy. Most cases of depression are short, and
usually respond to counseling, with or without the use of some of
the very effective medications available today.
You may have a clinical depression if you:
• Are continuously sad for weeks
•Withdraw from friends and relatives
• Feel worthless
• Fear the future excessively
• Speak or move slowly
• Feel tired all the time
• Can't make decisions
• Are angry all the time
• Lost interest in intimacy and sex
If you experience several of these symptoms, you should discuss
your situation with your physician. If you have thoughts about suicide,
call your physician or nurse immediately.
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