Depression may be a side effect of breast cancer and fatigue is often a symptom of depression. Some people may have a tendency to depression, which treatment can make worse. At the same time, fatigue itself can lead to depression. Not knowing why you feel drained week after week — and not knowing that this abnormal feeling is normal for many people going through treatment — can make you depressed.
Treatment for breast cancer may leave you feeling sad, tired, or depressed. These feelings are complex conditions, resulting from and affected by many factors: your cancer diagnosis and treatment, aging, hormonal changes, your life experiences, and your genetics.
If you're abruptly going through menopause 10 years earlier than you naturally would, with a quick lowering of hormone levels, you may experience feelings similar to postpartum depression.
Sadness is a natural part of your breast cancer experience, something you need to express and move through. If you don't allow yourself to feel sad and grieve, the unresolved grief gets in the way of feeling better and getting better. You may be having hot flashes and trouble sleeping. You may be feeling overwhelmed or even debilitated. All of these factors can lead to fatigue and depression.
How can you tell the difference between fatigue, sadness, and clinical depression? The symptoms of clinical depression include:
- an inability to cope
- an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and hopelessness
- an inability to concentrate
- memory problems
- panic attacks
- loss of pleasure in what used to make you happy
- lack of interest in sex or food
- sleep problems
If you think you're depressed, talk to your doctor. If your doctor doesn't have experience treating depression, ask for the name of an accredited psychotherapist. Together you can sort out if what you're feeling is depression or extreme fatigue. Therapy can help you feel supported and allow you to talk about what's bothering you. Antidepressant medicines can help ease feelings of sadness and anxiety and help you feel better. An accredited psychotherapist with experience treating depression can help.
Expert QuoteOne of the problems that some women experience is people saying to them, 'You are not tired, you are just depressed.' This is a serious problem because it ignores the impact of fatigue and depression. It is important to have both of those problems evaluated, and both of them are potentially treatable.
Kutluk Oktay, M.D.