Everyone gets “the blues” from time to time. Depression is more than “the blues” or “feeling down.” It goes beyond the normal ups and downs in mood you experience as you go about your daily activities. Depression is a persistent sadness that interferes with your usual activities and your ability to carry out your roles at home, work, school or in the community.
People who are undergoing treatment for cancer may be more susceptible to feeling depressed. In fact, anyone experiencing a serious illness is susceptible to depression. This is due in part to the increased stress of a serious illness. In cancer patients, depression can also be caused by medications commonly given in cancer treatment. Depression can be a side effect of these medications. These may include medications such as analgesics (pain medicines), anticonvulsants (for seizures), antihistamines, anti-inflammatories (for inflammation and pain), anti-neoplastics and chemotherapy agents (anti-cancer drugs), hormones, immunosuppressive agents and steroids.
Signs of Depression
• Feeling more “down” than usual
• Decreased interest in activities you would usually enjoy,
including activities with other people
• Being agitated or not reacting at all to various situations
• Excessive fatigue (tiredness) and loss of energy
• Changes in your sleeping (sleeping too much or not being able
• Changes in your appetite (weight gain or weight loss when not
trying to do either)
• Decreased interest in sexual activity
• Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
• Feeling more “slowed down” or more restless than usual,
making it difficult to perform tasks in you daily life that
usually are not a problem
• Feeling guilty for no reason
• Having a more negative outlook than usual
• Having thoughts of harming yourself or others (Call your
doctor immediately if you are having these thoughts.)
Let your doctor know immediately if you have several
of the above symptoms for more than a week or two. He or
she may be able to adjust your medications or prescribe an
antidepressant to help you feel better. Do not feel embarrassed
if you have symptoms of depression. Depression is often caused
by biochemical changes in the brain. Individuals with serious
illnesses may be more likely to have these biochemical changes.
Ways to feel better
• Do not keep these feelings to yourself. Share them with your
family, trusted friends, a clergy member or another individual
• Speak to an oncology Social Worker at the Cancer Center.
They are available to speak with you and your family about
• Do not use alcohol or drugs that were not prescribed for you
to feel better.
• Follow your treatment plan and take medications exactly as
• Ask any questions you may have about treatment and
diagnosis. Any member of the Cancer Center team will be
willing to answer your questions or refer you to the person
who can. Having this information on your specific care can
help you to know what lies ahead.
• Once treatment has started, keep a diary or journal of how
you are feeling. There are special pages in this handbook for
you to record any symptoms you are experiencing during
treatment. Be sure to fill out these sheets weekly. You may
also make daily notes on them. These symptom logs let your
healthcare professional know if your symptoms are getting
better or worse.
• Attend one of the educational workshops offered through the
Cancer Center. Whether you talk to a friend, family member,
religious leader or a member of the Cancer Center team,
remember that you are not alone.