- Question from Candy: How long does depression tend to last when it's brought on by medication? I keep thinking my depression will end once my therapy concludes.
- Answers - Diane Thompson We do know that women who are undergoing chemotherapy are more likely to have symptoms of depression, and these do tend to improve after chemotherapy is over. However, there is no specific timeline. Some women feel much better within several months of completing treatment, while others complain of a "foggy brain" for much longer. Regardless, if you're experiencing symptoms of depression during or after treatment, please discuss it with your physician, since this may be a good time to start some type of treatment.
- Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. In thinking back on their lives, some women have told me that they think they were actually depressed for years even before their breast cancer diagnosis. Sometimes a breast cancer diagnosis is a window of opportunity that can enable a person to get appropriate treatment for a chronic condition. Look at this as an opportunity for help if this description fits.
Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W.
I have seen women in dealing with breast cancer being able to acknowledge their depression, take antidepressant medication, and tell me they actually feel better than they have for years prior to the breast cancer diagnosis. I think these are people who have suffered from dysthymic conditions, and it took the crisis of breast cancer to encourage these people to ask for help. I would also like to add that I commonly see patients continue to have feelings of sadness, fear, and vulnerability, often up to a year after treatment is over.
It's very much like mourning, in that the response is similar to that of loss. Having a cancer diagnosis represents many losses. There's a loss of invincibility, loss of trust in your body, for many women a loss of a body part, and gradually over a period of time, often as much as a year, people in a gradual way start to get back to themselves and get back to their normal lives.
- Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. Women who are finishing treatment often expect to feel happy and joyous. When they don't, because it takes a while, that disconnect between what they expect and how they actually feel sometimes makes depressive feelings even stronger.
- Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. It's helpful to warn patients that anxiety often increases when treatment is over. It's actually a rare patient who is ready to celebrate upon the completion of chemotherapy.
- Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. I wholeheartedly agree!
- Diane Thompson Often after patients are done with chemotherapy, they tell me they felt more secure while they were getting treatment because they felt so awful they were sure the chemotherapy was doing something. When it ends, they may feel helpless. It's at this point that I urge people to enter the next stage, which is the stage of wellness and recovery from treatment. This is where choosing an appropriate diet and exercise can be good activities for the patient to focus on.
- Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. I make the distinction for patients that at this point the cure may have happened, but the healing may just be starting. What we're all trying to say is that you're on schedule, but if you believe your depressed feelings are lasting too long, don't hesitate to say something to your doctor.
- Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. This is also a good time to look for a post-treatment support group. Often friends and family don't understand the feelings patients may have, and think the patient should only feel celebratory since treatment is over. However, other patients certainly understand the feelings of fear, anxiety, and even abandonment by the medical community that are so common at this time.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Overcoming Depression featured Rosalind Kleban, M.S.W., Diane S. Thompson, M.D., and Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. answering your questions about medication and lifestyle changes that can ease depression along with to put hope, fun, and pleasure back into your life during and after breast cancer treatment.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in March 2003.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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