Coping With Emotions

Dealing With Cancer and Depression: How to Cope

Dealing with cancer and depression at the same time is extra challenging. It's also very common, and there are strategies you can use to cope.

When you have depression, learning you have cancer can be especially difficult. Dealing with cancer and depression at the same time can be complex and exhausting, but there are strategies that can help.

Talk to Your Oncologist

Depression often accompanies a cancer diagnosis, and some treatments for cancer can intensify the depression. Oncologists can manage your medications, but you need to be upfront with them. Describe all your depression and anxiety symptoms. Pain and fatigue can be symptoms of depression as well.

Your doctor also needs to know all the medications you are taking. These drugs will be taken into consideration when drafting your treatment plan. They may also make an adjustment to your antidepressant medication.

As you proceed through treatment, keep your medical team up to date on your symptoms as they change. Doctors are often able to make adjustments to reduce the side effects of treatment.

Consider Talk Therapy

If you’ve been treating your depression with just medication, this is a good time to add another approach to treating the mood disorder, such as talk therapy. A cancer diagnosis will demand much of your attention, but this is no time to let things slide on treating the depression. If you’re having trouble finding a therapist, ask for a referral from your oncologist. A therapist who specializes in treating cancer patients with depression and anxiety can be an ideal source of support.

Learn to Ask for Help

Asking for help can be difficult. In this case, the cancer diagnosis might make that a little easier because a few people may jump in and offer to help out with things like rides and meals. Accept those offers. Every time you allow someone to help you, they become a little more invested in your well-being. And it feels good to help, to make someone’s day better. It’s good for you, too; it gets you up, talking to people and receiving kindness.

Take some time to think about the things you tend to let slide when depression hits. Do you forget appointments? Do you forget to take your medications? Do you stay in bed all day? Make note of those things, and ask someone you trust to help you.

For example, if it’s the appointments, consider asking them to help you manage your calendar, put alarms in your phone, and arrange for rides to the appointment. If it’s the medications that you forget, perhaps they can help you sort your pills into organizers, and then call you each day to make sure you took them. Perhaps someone could show up at your place each morning to take you for a walk and out for coffee, and that would help you get out of bed every day.

It can be embarrassing to ask for help, and to admit that you need it. But we all have moments when we need a hand, and learning to ask for help is one of those skills that will make you stronger. And that strength will help you when dealing with cancer and depression.

UVA Cancer Center offers a number of resources to help you manage depression and cancer, including chaplaincy, counseling and support groups.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley