Post Cancer Depression and Anxiety
Updated: Mar 5
Cancer is a very complicated disease to deal with, both during and following treatment. One might think that upon completing cancer treatment, a long-awaited moment, all that would remain would be a strong sense of relief.
Although this is certainly true in the beginning, depression and anxiety “post cancer distress” can often follow. This term largely refers to short or long-lasting symptoms of depression or anxiety following treatment. As everyone’s experience with cancer is personal and their way of dealing with it is unique, the signs of this can vary a lot and to some individuals it can additionally present as stress, anger or loneliness.
It is important that survivors know that a) they are not alone dealing with such symptoms, and b) that it is an understandable and common occurrence. In fact, studies confirm that 20% of cancer survivors will go through depression or anxiety in the 12 months following remission.
For most people, with the proper support, these feelings will fade with time and they will be able to readjust to a “healthy” life, but others may need extra help such as the examples of resources shown below.
Why do people get post cancer depression?
Different cancers and treatment options will have many long-term effects that cause people to have trouble recovering physically but also emotionally. The most common are listed below.
- Fear of cancer recurrence
Most cancer survivors will experience this fear to some degree following remission as there is always a chance their cancer will return with the probability of relapse dependent on the cancer type and treatment. It may fade over time for some individuals, but for others it can linger for years or return at certain times in cases such as before follow-up appointments, having someone they know diagnosed, being ill, passing by a hospital or care center, etc…
If this is causing a high amount of distress, it is important to recognize it and find a suitable way of getting help for this issue.
- Lingering effects of cancer treatment
Cancer therapies are hard on the body and mind and can cause many long-lasting effects such as loss of fertility, hormonal changes, foggy memory and physical pain, among others. While in remission, survivors are no longer focused on getting better but on getting their life back on track. It’s at this time that these symptoms will become more noticeable and may even feel as if they are preventing them from living life as they did before. This can be frustrating, and in some cases lead to depression or hopelessness.
- Self-consciousness due to physical consequences of treatment
Surgery and chemotherapy will most likely cause obvious changes to the physical appearance, which can be challenging to deal with post therapy. Along with self-consciousness, these changes can also cause feelings of anger and even fear of being seen by others even if these changes are not outwardly apparent.
Despite having a strong support system, some survivors may feel like they have gone through their journey alone because those around them are unable to truly understand what they are feeling and have endured.
What support options are available?
It is important to realize that although these feelings are valid, they do not need to be permanent and the right help can allow survivors to overcome them.
- Support groups
Seeking out help within a support group can be a very effective way in dealing with the issues listed above. Many will find that being able to speak openly about their struggles with people who are undergoing the same feelings and distress extremely helpful and reassuring. Realizing that many other people are going through the same thing is an important step in feeling better and overcoming these negative emotions.
- Seeing a therapist
Although support groups are often effective, they do not work for everyone. Some individuals will be uncomfortable expressing their emotions in a group setting, or others may want to only address their particular issues, which is fine too. Therapy is an excellent way to seek out a highly personalized treatment. Additional tools such as GenMind™ will allow day-to-day symptoms to be monitored and assessed, allowing healthcare providers to evaluate their patients’ situation with a higher accuracy, and create a more efficient and personalized treatment plan.
We write these informational blogs for awareness, wider information dissemination and highlight the many aspects of mental health in our lives. They are not intended to provide specific medical advice. We welcome feedback and suggestions always.