Post-Treatment Depression

I’ve been seeing a few graphics and posts on the internet about May being Mental Health Awareness Month, and a few blurbs mention cancer’s impact on one’s mental health. These pieces reminded me of how lost and down, maybe even depressed, I felt after I completed treatment. For me, the worst part was, and still is, the anger I had/have about cancer. I wrote this post last summer about an epiphany I had, at which point I began to improve a great deal. I continue to improve thanks to the therapeutic aspects of writing it all out on this blog.

That said, I am certainly not suggesting my method of getting better is one that anyone else should try. In fact, I’d say the opposite. However, the past year of dipping my toe into the realm of social media tells me that I am not alone with many of my views and feelings. So I re-post this for anyone who is new to cancer or the aftermath of cancer, and finds him or herself in the place I once occupied.

This post reflects one of my most adamant, non-negotiable views about cancer. Cancer patients must be allowed to feel whatever they feel—even if those feelings are considered negative. NEVER, EVER just tell a cancer patient to think positive to deal with cancer. It just adds stress, and in my case, I felt blamed. I don’t want any other cancer patient to feel that, ever. One of my turning points to accepting my feelings was reading Jimmie C. Holland’s “The Human Side of Cancer” (chapter 2, specifically). Another turning point is described in this old post.

I’m Allowed

Posted on July 29, 2013 by Cancer Curmudgeon

For the people who say “thanks for this.”

This post is about allowing myself and encouraging others to do cancer any way we damn well please.

Just prior to starting this blog, and in the hazy days of bouncing back from the treatment side effects, I was in a bit of a depression. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I had no time or energy to find blogs while I was actively in treatment and working my ass off. During treatment I was not happy with the rah-rah/pink/warrior culture that was the most prevalent form of support available (except in the diagnosed-under-40 support group, thank goodness). After I made some life changes, I was pleased to finally be able to take some time and dig around and find blogs or articles that said some of the thoughts that were more like mine, and I began blogging to interact a bit.

Around the same time I found other blogs, I had an epiphany. I was at some event last autumn with other cancer patients and expressing some anger. A fellow attendee started suggesting stress reduction methods, telling me that I must “accept” my cancer and ended her pseudo-lecture with “you can’t be angry all the time.” I was just so sick of this type of lecture; it wasn’t the first time I’d heard words of that nature. And BTW, I don’t think people mean the dictionary definition of “accept” when they tell me to do that; I think they really mean “shut up and sit down”.

There I was, a 40-year-old woman, being talked down to like a 6-year-old, because, being, ahem, a couple decades younger than most in the room, I was the youngster, the newbie; never mind I’d finished treatment already. I was not a cancer expert (and still am not), but I wasn’t a novice either, for crying out loud.

Then it hit me—why was I even listening? I can be angry if I want! I probably thought those sentences in the petulant voice of the 6-year-old me, but the minute I did, half the anger just fell away. And it continues to fall away still. By giving myself permission to be angry, sad, frustrated, etc., I become less so, especially with each post I write. Sure, anger & other bad company are still there, but in a weakened and more useful way–they inspire and motivate me, to speak up or write these posts. Whether they should be posted and sent into the blogosphere—I’ll get to that in a minute.

While I get that people who say “think positive/cheer up” and that sort of thing are well-intentioned, maybe even trying to help—the result for me is the opposite. I just get more pissed off, because in my mind, my feelings are being diminished, dismissed, blown off. That never feels good. Cancer sucks, but being told how to do cancer sucks too. Part of the crapfest that is cancer is the culture around it (especially true in breast cancer), and the culture demands conformity, and as I’ve said in previous posts, I cannot do conformity. It is great that the normal, socially acceptable warrior/pink/rah-rah methods work for the majority of folks, I can respect that. I’ve seen people swallow negativity and wondered if they could achieve better peace by letting it out, but it is not my place to tell them what to do. And I don’t want to be told what to do/how to handle cancer either.

This blog is to escape and to challenge all of the bullshit in the warrior cancer/don’t worry, be happy world that just does not ring true for me. Here, I express my thoughts in my way, no matter if they are angry, or blunt, or whatever other unpleasant adjectives can be applied to them. Here, I express my experiences of cancer without (much) self-censorship. My professional life before 2012 was very constricting, so I wanted a space where the rules, limits, deadlines, ideas were mine alone. This is that space.

I think many would tell me I should keep my ugly thoughts to myself; I should stop sending negativity out into the universe, or blogosphere. But my challenge to that attitude is this: why is expressing negative feelings automatically considered a negative action—why can it not be viewed as a positive, “working through it” technique, which is kind of the point of a lot of therapy? How can bad feelings be turned around if not confronted, if they are constantly submerged, denied, hidden politely away? And most of all, why is it assumed that expressing negativity means the one expressing it is negative on the whole, and somehow not capable of experiencing other emotions (sometimes simultaneously)?

My blogs are not read by many, but the few comments I’ve gotten here or on the other blog tend to say “thanks”, and some variation of “I thought I was the only one who felt that/this is what I’ve been trying to say.” So while many hear/read thoughts that make them uncomfortable (which might be behind some of the “get happy” suggestions rather than a desire to really help), those same thoughts provide comfort to a few. I remember all too well last October not knowing what search terms to use to find people with opinions similar to mine, and I remember all too well how relieved I was to stumble, bass-ackwards, onto blogs that did express such opinions. So if my blog is just one more place someone can stumble upon and find relief, then my own victory over anger & company is nearly complete. I hope your victory can be found here too.

 

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

15 thoughts on “Post-Treatment Depression”

  1. Count me in as one of those people who says, “thanks for this.” Being ‘allowed’ to be real, feeling and expressing genuine feelings, speaking one’s truth – these things always matter and like you, cancer or no cancer, I believe they help us work through stuff, and that is a big positive in my book. So, thanks for this!

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    1. Thank YOU!!! So glad you like this, as your blog has been a great source of comfort and inspiration for me. Speaking my own truth is likely a topic I’ll revisit quite soon. Again, thank you.

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    1. You are soooo right–I’d love to erase that compulsory element! And I believe anger was what the women had who started the grass roots movements to bring attention to BC–before everything went so pink and deceptive.

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  2. Reblogged this on Jenn in her own words… and commented:
    I totally agree with The Cancer Curmudgeon here. Owning my feelings has been key to me being able to start on the road to mental recovery after this experience. I still have days of depression or anger, and I “ride” them knowing that after everything I’ve been through I have a right to those feelings.

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  3. “Think positive” people fall into three categories:
    (1) Never been through cancer themselves.
    (2) People who went through a much shorter and less physically traumatizing cancer treatment. Not a cakewalk either, but the lumpectomy patient preaching about attitude to the mastectomy/lymph node patient is kind of like the broken leg person preaching to the amputee.
    (3) The cancer patient who has bought that line and is hoping against hope it is true. I know a lady who tells people that thanks to her positive attitude she is now totally cancer free, oh, but she is getting a little radiation for some kind of spot on her bone they recently found. (Talk about denial.)
    Personally, I find it somewhat arrogant to think that I have the power within myself to defeat cancer. Attribute results to God, modern medicine, fate or luck. But, if we had that kind of power within us, we would not get cancer to start with.

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    1. Hi Elizabeth!
      Yep, sure is easy to be positive from afar isn’t it?
      There is much to be said about this sort of judgment and competition within the cancer world, and I’ve tackled some of it before: see Why This Smart Ass Does Not Kick Ass (that one touches on what you mean when you say arrogant to think I have the power) and If You Don’t Approve of Preventative Mastectomy Don’t Get One (I had a lumpectomy but I think I make a convincing argument for the choice of mastectomy in that post, and in some older ones that I forget the titles of). Check them if you are interested. But, I’ll likely tackle these topics again in the future.
      And oh, that whole thing about not getting the cancer to start with—yeah, a couple of things I stumbled on today made me fall down the rabbit hole of self-blame, which is stupid. Thanks for your timely comment—it helps me see clearly today!

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  4. I so get it! I’m struggling horribly mentally my second time with bc then the first. But I am slowly dealing. Don’t you just want to smack some people when they say you should just be happy to be alive?

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    1. Ha ha, hmmm, you bring up a good point that I might write about in the future…surviving vs living. As in of course I’m grateful to still be alive, and I want a rich life but cancer has perhaps aged me past my 42 years–or robbed me of things non-cancerous 40 somethings take for granted. That “you should be happy to be alive” subject is fraught with tension for me. Good to hear from you!

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  5. dear CC,

    not too long ago, one blogger asked us if we could teach a class on any subject, what would we teach? I can’t recall what my response was at that time. but after reading this most resonant and insightful post, I think teaching a class on listening would be a very good one. I think your question about why can’t anger be thought of as a healthy, working through process makes an excellent point. and I know any good therapist would whole-heartedly agree – it’s healthy, and deserves validation, as do ALL emotions we are capable of feeling. i am so glad you have found your voice and are feeling validated by all whom admire and cheer you on – feeling judged and dismissed as “negative” only adds fuel to the fire of anger we struggle with when we are around others who just don’t “get it”.

    much love,

    Karen xoxo

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    1. Oooo, a class on any subject? Interesting! Yes, one of the concepts that our culture seems to ignore is that humans are complex and capable of many emotions simultaneously. I’m not sure how or why this happened, and my experiences in Cancerland have revealed this stupidity in harsh unflattering light. Worth a ponder and a post, I think.
      And thank you for being my #1 cheerleader! xxxooo CC

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  6. I really liked this post. When you say “How can bad feelings be turned around if not confronted, if they are constantly submerged, denied, hidden politely away?” it really resonated with me and all I could think of was “Damn right”. It also got some wheels turning in the webby parts of my mind that might need a good dusting. Thanks for giving that wheel a boot. I think it needed some new perspective. Thank you for a great post.

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