Most women have had or will have an encounter with breast cancer at some point in their lives. Whether you are personally diagnosed with the disease or you know someone who has, one in eight women in the U.S. will have a lifetime risk of developing breast cancer according to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Hearing the words: “you have breast cancer,” is a life-changing experience that you’ll never forget. From the biopsies, the many oncology appointments, surgeries, radiation treatments, chemotherapy, the waiting on results, it’s likely that your emotions are going to be all over the face and you’ll feel anything from shock, denial, sadness, anger, fear, to anxiety. With breast cancer or any other serious medical condition, the emphasis tends to be on the physical implications that the illness has on your body, because those effects are visible.
Therefore, the support that you receive from friends and family often center around physical limitations because that’s what they see. Without a doubt, that extra help with chores around the house, meal preparation, childcare, transporting to and from doctor’s appointments, care baskets, hairstyling, etc., is much appreciated and needed. However, the emotional support is sometimes overlooked because the symptoms associated with depression and anxiety may not be as recognizable.
Please know that with everything that you go through during your cancer journey, it’s perfectly normal to have crying spells, bouts of anger, and fatigue. It’s easy to confuse the side effects from treatment with the symptoms of depression. Being diagnosed with cancer can take both a physical and emotional toll on you. Let’s take a look at the signs of symptoms of depression:
- Sadness and feeling empty
- Negative thoughts
- A decrease in energy or fatigue
- Loss of interest and low motivation
- Irritability and anger
- Increase crying
- Change of appetite
- Change in sleeping patterns
- Trouble concentrating
Let’s take a look at what you can do to help yourself through your depression as you’re fighting breast cancer or any serious medical condition:
How to Cope When Your Illness is Making You Depressed
1. Have a good cry (or two or three). Crying is a natural human emotion, and releasing those emotions can actually be therapeutic. Whether you cry alone or with someone, remember that crying is a normal reaction as you deal with breast cancer or any serious illness.
2. Write about your journey including your thoughts and experiences in a journal. You can freely express every thought and emotion when journaling. It’s another way to release bottled up emotions without judgment.
3. Ask for help and be willing to accept help. This might be difficult when you’re so used to your independence and doing every little thing yourself. Your pride may make it hard to ask for help, but put it aside. Remember that people are willing and able to help you, so don’t be afraid to ask or accept the support when they offer.
4. Make your goals realistic. Before your diagnosis, your energy was probably plentiful and you could get a lot of stuff done. Nowadays, you may not be able to do everything you did before the treatment. Give yourself time and plenty of grace.
5. Break down your tasks into small, manageable tasks. Take breaks often, and instead of trying to complete tasks and chores all in one sitting like you used to do, break them down, and do a little bit at a time. Be patient with your progress and celebrate the small victories.
6. Do things that make you feel relaxed and happy. Engage in activities that make you smile. Whether it’s reading a book, watching a movie, spilling tea with your girls, the more engaged and connected you are, the better you feel. Don’t isolate yourself and avoid the people that have your back.
7. Eat healthy foods and avoid alcohol. Your diet is linked to your mood and can help you feel better mentally, emotionally, and of course, physically. Alcohol is a depressant and can actually make you feel more depressed, so avoid it.
8. Talk about it with someone with whom you can be vulnerable and honest. Share your experiences with someone who you trust and with whom you can be yourself; someone who will listen without the judgment.
9. Join a support group. You may want to connect with other women who are survivors or are in treatment and who can relate to your experiences. Ask your doctor about support groups in your area and consider online support groups if that’s more convenient for you.
10. Visit a professional counselor. Talking to a counselor can help as you sort through the many feelings you’ll likely experience after your diagnosis and treatment. If you feel like any of the other coping strategies just aren’t bringing you peace, schedule an appointment with a therapist who can help you learn different, more effective ways to cope.
Sadness and anger are normal feelings during your breast cancer experience. It’s important to express and honor your thoughts and feelings rather them keep them to yourself. If it’s just too much to handle, help is available for you.