The After period of breast cancer presents its own unique set of challenges. The anxiety and depression that sneaked in AFTER my breast cancer treatment was a real shocker. Once I was done with treatment, I thought I was done. However, yet again, breast cancer laughed right in my face!
The fantastic organization, Living Beyond Breast Cancer addressed anxiety and depression issues in a webinar (have you ever done a webinar? They are so great!) with psychiatrist Ruth H. Steinman in 2013. Boy, oh boy, was it great! I recently went back to LBBC’s website to listen to the podcast.
Dr. Steinman assured us that although conflicting emotions can be confusing to you and those around you, anxiety and depression after breast cancer is absolutely normal and these difficult-to-hold emotions usually lessen over time.
Here’s an interesting (and sometimes confusing) thing about anxiety and/or depression after breast cancer treatment: they tend to occur at various frequencies and levels of intensity. These emotions can be suddenly re-experienced with “trigger events” such as anniversary dates, birthdays, holidays, etc.
I had a trigger event not too long ago when a woman I knew died after a very sudden breast cancer recurrence. The last time I saw her in Philly she was planning a birthday party for her son. Unfortunately, she died a few months ago. This sent chills down my spine and turned on my anxiety button. What I know is that these emotions can pop up at any time!
In the webinar, Dr. Steinman described certain things that can provoke anxiety and depression:
- Pain, fatigue, nausea
- Body image
- Inability to care for family
- Financial instability
- Tests/scans – waiting for results
- Appointments with oncology team
- Hearing of others recurrence or death
- Feelings of pain or fatigue, or develop a cough
She described the prevalent symptoms of anxiety and depression:
- On edge
- Muscle tension
- Easily fatigued
- Sleep disturbance
- Problem with focus during day
Ummmm, I have had most all of these. Geesh! How about you? It just reiterates the fact that breast cancer is still never far from my mind. In fact, it lingers just below the surface.
Below are some practical tips (you know I love practical tips!) to help manage these feelings:
- Pace life to avoid being overwhelmed. While this is rather challenging, actively focusing on this does help. Just yesterday, I literally stopped myself in my tracks, sat down in a chair and rebooted at a slower pace.
- Set short term goals. I frequently break my to-do lists down to the hour. In other words, I’ll say to myself, “In the next hour, I’m going to do so-and-so.” This helps me immensely!
- Work on developing non-cancer identity. From the time I started writing the blog, I have been adamant about cancer being one – just one! – part of my life. It is so important to identify with many more things in your life – other than cancer.
- Spirituality I find a great deal of my spirituality comes from nature. Nature is a great sources of soulfulness and joy. When I am hiking or at the beach, I am joyfully reminded that I am part of something much, much bigger in the world.
- Reinforce past adaptive strategies for coping under stress. In other words, ask yourself: What else has been difficult in your life and how did you handle?)
- Support from family, community, health care providers. After my diagnosis and during treatment, I had the most amazing support system. It was truly incredible and I am still so grateful for the support. What I have found is that it’s ok – better than ok, actually – to lean on this support system even after treatment.
- Writing. You know how I feel about writing. I write all the time. Much never even makes it to the blog. I especially like to write about gratitude and Shining Moments – shocker.
- Diet, Nutrition & Exercise are so so so important! Not only do they reduce the risk of recurrence, but they also help balance feelings of anxiety and depression.
- Complementary Therapies, such as meditation, energy work (Qi Gong, Reiki, etc. and relaxation techniques (breathing, muscle relaxation, guided imagery) continue to be hugely helpful when I’m feeling off-kilter.
If you have prolonged feelings of anxiety or depression, please-please-please call your doctor. The Shining Moment is that there are ways to help balance and contend with these trying feelings.
Additionally, you may also call the American Psychological Oncology Society Helpline: 1-866-APOS 4 Help (1-866-276-7443) http://www.apos-society.org/survivors/helpline/helpline.aspx