Going through serious illnesses such as breast cancer can lead to depression. Breast cancer is a life changing disease that not only affects the body physically, but also mentally. Your whole life is changed by this illness. Just hearing the “C” word leaves a person devastated. Sufferers are going though all kinds of changes in their bodies and are overloaded with information and appointments.
When you hear the words, “You have breast cancer,” your heart stops for a few minutes. Fear fills your body, your mind races, and tears flood your eyes. You fear that you will die, you fear getting sick from treatments, you fear what you will look like without hair or breasts, and so on. You are stunned, sad, angry, and scared. This is enough alone to send a person into depression. It’s what helped throw me towards that dark hole, but that’s just the beginning.
Once you are diagnosed, you are scheduled many appointments. Too many to keep track of. Specialists and doctors overwhelm you with information and your mind feels like it’s going to explode. They tell you what kind of treatments is recommended, they explain your cancer, and say things you may not understand. You’re sitting their trying to focus while your mind keeps repeating, “I can’t believe this is happening to me,” and “This can’t be real. I must be dreaming.”
Then there are the treatments. The treatments change your body. There are treatments that make you sick, burn your skin, and lose body parts, and more. These alone can send a person into depression. I had to make a very hard decision. I had to decide whether or not to keep my breasts. This sent me into depression. How could I make a decision to have a part of my body removed? I agonized and cried over this.
At work a woman gave me a keychain that was pink that had the words “brave, fight and live” on it. She told me she had a double mastectomy. I looked at her flat chest and thought, “She looks ugly, and I’m going to look ugly.” Of course she wasn’t ugly; she was beautiful, but when I looked at her, I didn’t see her; I saw myself. I pictured myself breastless and it wasn’t a pretty sight. I decided then I had to have reconstruction. It seemed like the only way I would ever be able to love myself, so I thought. I was wrong, but at the time I couldn’t see that.
For some breast cancer sufferers, it can be hard to decipher the symptoms of depression. With treatments they are already feeling fatigue, their appetite changes, they find it hard to sleep, they have aches and pains they never had before, and they find it hard to concentrate. When I had my bilateral mastectomy, I had no energy and sleeping was a challenge.
There are many other symptoms of depression to look for:
- plans of suicide or harm-self
- Lack of interest in things that lasts for several days
- Emotions that interfere with daily activities
- Loss of appetite and inability to eat
- Inability to sleep
- New and unusual symptoms
If you notice any of these signs seek help. You can find these
at American Cancer Society ttps://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/emotional-side-effects/anxiety-fear-depression.html. After my mastectomy, it took me a while before I could even look at my chest and I cried easily. Since I have been through depression before, I knew the symptoms well. I felt that darkness engulfing my soul. I struggled at night to sleep even while on sleeping medication. The self-esteem that took me years to build was crumbling. On top of being depressed, I felt grief for losing the very part of my body that distinguished me as a woman. I felt hopeless.
My husband reassured me over and over again I was still beautiful. I used coping techniques I learned in years of therapy to help me face depression and defeat it once again. I leaned on my support team. In time I learned to accept myself without breasts. I decided I didn’t want more surgeries and chose not to have reconstruction. I had to learn to love myself as a woman with a flat chest.
If you are going through breast cancer and you find yourself struggling with depression, turn to someone. Build a support system and talk to your cancer center about therapy. Going through a major illness like breast cancer is bound to cause sadness, but when that sadness persists and you can’t shake it, then you need help. Not only do you need to take care of your body, but you also need to take care of your mind.
I have been cancer free for one year. I fought breast cancer and depression and won. I am standing tall in the light of recovery.