Many people who go through serious illnesses or traumatic events in their lives find themselves falling into the dark hole of depression. Sometimes it can be a mild depression that goes away on its own, and other times it can lead to a major depression that takes medication and therapy to get through it. It’s easy to get depressed when you deal with such a serious illness as cancer. Cancer is an awful disease that has a bad reputation.
Despite the strides in treatment of cancer, many still see cancer as a death sentence. Even though advancements have been made and many live long lives after treatment, the road to recovery is not easy. Let’s face it; no illness is easy to deal with. Who would not get depressed when they have been diagnosed with an illness like breast cancer? It’s scary. Just saying the word “cancer” is frightening. The first thing that comes to mind is chemotherapy, losing hair, becoming very ill, and death. That’s what came to my mind when I heard the words, “You have breast cancer.”
I have dealt with mental illness most of my life. I have also overcome mental illness. I reached recovery a few years back and have been happy. It’s not that I’m cured from my illness, but I have it under control. I hadn’t felt deeply depressed in a long time. Then I got the phone call telling me I had breast cancer. My happy life shattered and my ability to keep above the hole failed and I fell. It was a long time since I had felt so bad inside. I felt my breath being drained from me.
The darkness filled me and the light that once shined in me was smothered. I didn’t want to face another day. I wanted to lie in bed and pretend I didn’t exist. Why me? Why did I have to have cancer? Was God punishing me? Was I going to die? Would I lose my hair? Would I get very sick? What purpose would I have to go on if it would be in misery? I automatically saw the worst side of my illness. I once again was blinded to the positive side. That old negative thinking took over.
Then I got the news I had the BRCA gene and the depression got worse. I had to face some pretty major decisions like choosing to keep my breasts and being at high risk for another cancer or having a double mastectomy. How could a person be asked to make such a decision? I became flooded with many emotions: anger, grief, sadness, denial, and hopelessness. I felt like my insides were being pulled apart.
Going to work and putting on a smile became a struggle. I tried to focus on my customers and job, but I couldn’t shake the sadness. I want to stop what I was doing and crumble into a ball and cry. I kept saying the words, “I have breast cancer,” but it felt like I was stuck in a night-mare. None of this could be real. I prayed that someone would wake me up and tell me, “You’re fine. You were just dreaming.”
I felt like I was falling to pieces, but I was too strong to allow myself to fall all the way down to the bottom of my hole. I used many of the coping techniques I learned in years of therapy for mental illness. I started trying to find the positive side to having cancer like, I caught it early and would not have to go through chemotherapy. I made boundaries for myself. I told my friends I loved them, but I had to take care of myself first and could not be as supportive as usual with their problems. I turned to my support system and talked to them when I felt I couldn’t go on. I found a support group full of women who are going through what I’m going through or have gone through it.
It’s normal to be depressed while facing a major illness. If you become so depressed that you feel you can’t shake it and want to end your life, ask for help. Give yourself a break; it’s only natural to be sad over a serious illness. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help and seek support. There are groups and therapists out there that will help you on the path you must face. You don’t have to be mentally ill to suffer with depression. Depression comes with many things like illnesses, loss, traumatic events, and so on. If you don’t take care of your depression, it can turn into an ongoing illness. You can overcome it.
I have gone through my mastectomy. At support group a woman asked me if I was still in shock. She told me after shock would come depression and grief, but for me most of the depression and grief came before surgery. Now I’m healed up, feeling stronger, and will be returning to work September 17. I am standing in the light cancer free and once again in recovery from mental illness.