Cancer, Depression and Hope

As reported in the Humboldt Beacon on July 15, 2010:
North Coast Group Offers Hope for Cancer Victims Dealing with Depression

The Relay for Life, took place Saturday, July 10th at the College of the Redwoods stadium raised awareness for cancer and for good reason. The American Cancer Society tells us that in this next year approximately 569,490 Americans are expected to die from this disease. While the survival rate has improved significantly with the advances in early diagnosis and treatment, the war to fight cancer continues. The National Cancer Institute tells us that 15-25% of cancer patients experience depression, making their personal fight with their disease even more challenging. A local group to support and encourage cancer victims points out that if you or a loved one has cancer and are experiencing depression, you are not alone, and there is hope.

Depression itself is so prevalent in our culture, but is often unspoken in social circles. There are some stigmas and myths associated with depression. Now, everyone experiences some depression sometime, that is normal, but it is not normal to stay depressed. Having cancer can trigger depression. What does depression look like? Authors Harold G. Koenig, M.D. and David Bieble, D. Min. in New Light on Depression give us a picture. There is difficulty in relationships. People with whom one normally interacts with may feel some awkwardness with a cancer diagnosis. One may not know what exactly to say, so they withdraw, leaving the person with cancer wondering why they are not being supported when they need it the most. Normalcy in social relationships can be altered as the cancer patient may have to leave the workplace, or not feel well enough to attend regular social functions. A sense of loneliness can develop. There may be irritability or anger. The cancer patient may fear death or be dismayed at the interruption of life’s plans. There may be some strong feelings about the changes in body image and self-esteem. Changes in social role and lifestyle may be forced upon the cancer patient. There may be money and legal concerns that add insult to injury.

In addition, there can be problems in sleeping. Depressed people have a lot on their minds, even the fear of losing one’s mind. There can be a complex of new physical ailments, loss of energy, diminished sexual drive, impaired memory and thinking, and a change in eating habits. If the dietary nutrients are absent in the depressed person’s diet, then that too can add to the downward spiral of depression. A depressed person often struggles with feelings of worthlessness.

Jan Dravecky, wife of baseball star and cancer victim Dave Dravecky, fell into the pit of depression as a result of exhaustion, pressures and multiple stressors over an extended period of time. Even though the Dravecky’s had launched a ministry to help other cancer victims, Jan’s determination to stay strong worked against her as she denied the signs of depression that her doctor saw developing.

Clinical depression is a physical condition to which the cancer patient can be susceptible. Depression affects the whole person and responds to a “whole person” approach to treatment. The four areas of one’s humanity – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual addresses depression at all levels.

Steps to overcoming depression start with telling somebody. Having at least one friend – an intimate friend who knows us and loves us is an important part of mental and spiritual health. There is a release in just sharing that burden, and once it is spoken it doesn’t seem quite as dark.

Do see a medical doctor. If there are physical reasons for the depression one needs to address the physical aspects of this condition. A medical doctor can help make decisions about the treatment that is best. If there are questions, seek a second opinion. As depression is unique for each person, the treatment may be unique as well. But there is help available. Do see a medical doctor.

Speak with a counselor and consider joining a support group. Author Carol Lessor Baldwin writes, “We are social beings. We have spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical needs that can be met only within the context of our relationships…Our need to be loved, to be affirmed, to be valued, and to be a part of a group are met in relationships to other people. Relationships are vital to our emotional and psychological well-being.”

Local residents Mary Lou Fisher and Becky Johnson, both who are fighting their own personal battles with cancer, lead a cancer support group through the Hydesville Community Church. Fisher relates, “we share together the often difficult process of coping with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. We are not a group of experts who offer advice on the treatment of cancer. We are a group of people who are eager to listen, to share honestly our own struggles, fears and joys. We have the freedom to rejoice together and to weep together. We will support one another spiritually and emotionally on our journey with cancer so that we can live each day to its fullest”.

Another facet to battling the depression that can result from a cancer diagnosis is to consider one’s thought life.
When we aren’t feeling well physically we can get in the habit of focusing on the negative. Some ways to strengthen one’s resolve include: making a “thankful” list,. release the bitterness, make a choice to forgive, and determine to hold fast to hope. Love the people in your life and receive their love for you. Get involved with the needs of others. There is nothing like immersing oneself in the needs of others to put into perspective one’s own problems.

The following resources on depression and cancer were used in this article and more information may be obtained by contacting the American Cancer Society ( and Relay for Life ( Book resources: New Light on Depression by David Bieble, D. Min & Harold G. Koenig, MD, The Overload Syndrome, Richard A. Swenson, M.D., Margins, Richard A. Swenson M. D. and A Joy I’d Never Known by Jan Dravecky. For the local cancer support group led by Mary Lou Fisher and Becky Johnson call Hydesville Community Church at 768-3767.

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