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Breast Cancer Basics
Early Detection
Diagnosis & Staging
Facing Breast Cancer
Planning Your Treatment
Treatment Options
Advanced Breast Cancer
A Guide For Your Partner


Emotional Recovery

 Emotional Recovery •  Reactive DepressionClinical Depression


Emotional Recovery
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 the mind.


Reactive Depression
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 confidence.

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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Clinical Depression
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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