William Ramshaw resides in the expansive Pacific Northwest. He is a six-year survivor of pancreatic cancer and has written a memoir Gut Punched! Facing Pancreatic Cancer.
Post-cancer depression sometimes makes me feel like I’m being run over by a bus, but here’s some advice on how to let it pass by.
Let’s face it, finishing our cancer treatments is only the first step on a long, long journey. I wish I could put a happy face on this, but I can’t.
Of the many things we cancer survivors face are endless follow-ups at our clinics, an ever-present reminder of what we’ve been through. Of course, some of us opt out of these follow-ups due to the gripping anxiety they induce, or worse, we lack insurance to help pay for them.
But beyond these constant reminders, many of us cancer survivors face bouts of depression, and endless days of feeling that although our cancer bus missed us the first time, it won’t next time. Our once bright futures now seem sullied. Our hopefulness is replaced by dread. We’ve taken to spying on our body thinking it is a conniving cheat looking to betray us.
After all we’ve been through, make no mistake: bouts of depression are real and can be as lethal as what we have survived. Dealing with them is essential. It is easy for some to cast them aside, but others of us may need to seek help.
When I am feeling like my cancer bus of depression is trying to run me over, I do the following to get out of its way:
Look at it from the outside in
I try to focus on the fact that I have survived pancreatic cancer for almost nine years, when many don’t see two, and few see five. Sadly, for many of us, simply surviving is like winning the lottery, but we soon forget how lucky we are to have made it.
Perhaps this goes back to the glass half full or half empty analogy. I would portend we can teach ourselves to see our glass as being half full. If a super analytic person like myself can do it, I would say almost anyone can. It’s better to be thankful that our glass is not bone dry versus quibble over how full it is. I have found that for every ugly situation I face, there are always other people facing far worse ones. We need to be thankful for our situation, not wish it was someone else’s.
Understand that worrying about the future is a fool’s game
None of us knows our future. Cancer is an indiscriminate killer. But we have an advantage over others in that we have survived it. Cancer is no longer on my list of things that might kill me.
I need to focus on the present and not worry about a future I have no control over.
Talk it over with a good friend
I am so fortunate to have an awesome friend who, over the past several years, has walked with me through my sunless valleys for months at a time. I am blessed to have him. Simply talking to him, and hearing my words escape my mouth, has helped me realize that I am not alone on my journey.
For me, there is nothing more helpful than putting spoken words around what’s happening inside my head. It forces me to conceptualize my feelings. Doing this helps me figure out how to handle my primal fear of dying and leaving so much undone. If you don’t have a confidant who you can let down your guard with and tell them you’re scared sh**less, find one.
Avoid feeling ashamed
Some people are raised in a family where an admission of needing help is viewed as a grave weakness. The general culture of “buck up butter cup” is alive and well. Words like, “‘Just deal with it.’ or ‘Tough it out.’”, are said. Shame is something we all face but for some of us, it stops us from either telling our doctors about what is going on or seeking help for it. Depression is nothing to be ashamed about. Avoid feeling ashamed.
Tell the doctor what is going on
I know my mind can take a twinge in my side and run away with it. I get on the internet and look up all the things that might cause a twinge and of course, I settle on the worst possible cause. Sometimes a few minutes talking to someone licensed to practice medicine, maybe a test or two, can rule out these worst-case scenarios. But if we don’t talk to our doctors, they can’t help us.
Facing cancer and then surviving it is a feat in itself. However, if you find black clouds lit up with thunder hanging over you without relent, it may be time to seek help. There is no shame in this. The only real shame is gritting your teeth and gutting it out. Most clinics have trained therapists on staff who specialize in treating cancer-induced depression. If they don’t have one on staff, they know who is good in the local community.
There is no need to let your cancer bus of depression run over you.
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