Sometimes cancer is a well-formed, well-defined tumor that can be measured and quantified in neat, orderly, precise ways. Other times it is a tentacled monster, infiltrating, poking its deadly fingers into places it doesn't belong in ways that are impossible to measure and track. Regardless of which type of cancer you have in your body, I suspect for most of us cancer affects our lives in the second kind of way: we struggle to keep it contained or compartmentalized and instead it pervades nearly every part of our existence in stubborn, annoying, or even alarming ways. That is how I've been experiencing it lately, at least.
I feel like it's all around me constantly. People I know and care about are losing loved ones. Loved ones of mine are facing the relentless decisions about treatment options and side effects and quality of life and always the urgent rush that goes with it. Decide quickly, decide now. While you are waiting it could be spreading those fingers around, it could be killing you.
Maybe it's because of all the losses being suffered, maybe it's the inevitable downhill slide after years of riding the stress and adrenaline high of managing the immediate medical crisis from 2011 to now, maybe it's mid-life hormone changes, maybe it's all of those things, but for most of the past year I've been feeling a sneaking, creeping, insidious invasion of another kind, like an emotional, cognitive cancer: depression. I recognize the warning signs from my experience with the illness in the past, so this time I didn't wait nearly as long to ask for help. This summer I decided to talk to my oncologist about it, and get a referral.
This week I met with a psychologist at my hospital's cancer treatment center who specializes in oncology patients, who understands the ways in which depression affects how we cope with cancer, and how cancer and it's treatments and complications affect how we cope with depression. I'm going to continue seeing him every couple of weeks and I have a good feeling about him, I think he will help me help myself quite a lot.
I feel like it's important for me to point out that I have a great support system. Needing professional psychological help doesn't reflect badly upon your family, friends, significant other, colleagues, etc. It doesn't mean they have somehow failed to adequately comfort and support you. It doesn't mean that you are weak or bad at coping, either. It just means that sometimes you need to see the right doctor to treat your mind and soul, just like you need the right specialist for your cancer type or your endocrine health or your heart disease.
If you feel like anxiety and worry are overwhelming you, if you have trouble sleeping or sleep too much, if you struggle to concentrate and detail recall seems harder than normal, if you feel listless too much or like sadness is your default emotion except when something specifically cheers you up, if you feel unusually angry or short-tempered a lot of the time, and don't understand why you keep snapping at people, if you frequently think and worry about mortality and death, if you notice your appetite has changed or you've gained or lost weight without planning to, it's possible that you could benefit from talking to your doctor about what you're experiencing. Don't be afraid to be honest and start the conversation. It doesn't have to lead to medications or therapy, if those words frighten or make you uncomfortable. At least open the door with your care team and let them educate you about the myriad ways to relieve the symptoms of depression and put more quality back into your quality of life. You deserve to live as your best self.