Category: Depression

The Conundrum of Cancer: or, sitting still in the dark

Years ago, after I had my first bout of depression, I wondered if that is what the Greeks meant by the hero’s journey: going into the darkness (labyrinths, hell), fighting monsters and demons, then coming back to the light, victorious. As I contemplate depression and cancer, I’m beginning to see the similarities. The bleakness. The inability to plan for the future. The obsessing. The lack of control. Feeling lost and disconnected. Knowing that I need to do something, but not knowing what it is. Traveling to meet Hades.

However, this journey is different from the one Greek men and demigods experienced. I may be floating down the Acheron into the Underworld, but I’m not pushing away or pulling into the boat the swirling figures in the water. Rather, I am quietly observing my demons with curiosity: cancer, familial relationships, failed friendships, heartbreak, depression, regrets, mistakes, sorrows, the past, the future. I am sitting still, lest I fall into the river and drown amongst the monsters of my creation. The boat keeps propelling me further into the unknown, and I’m not trying to turn it around or stop it—that would be futile and folly. This is the voyage I’m on, even though I didn’t opt to step off the dock.

The last time I saw my medical oncologist, he made a comment about me going back to my life after radiation therapy was finished. I didn’t tell him this, but there is no returning to my former way of being. My body and outlook have changed, and my priorities have shifted. The plans I made for this year have dissipated—at least, most of them. The two that remain, ironically, are my health and writing. And, ironically, both force me to sit still. Radiation leaves me fatigued, and it’s difficult to write while in motion. So, I wonder what lessons are to be learned, and ponder how to shape my life—do I dry dock and disassemble, or do I stay on the boat and flow with the currents?

This conundrum currently has no resolution. Charon is rowing, while I maintain balance. We still haven’t reached the light.


The Conundrum of Cancer: or, the D word no one talks about

I have cancer and I am depressed. Or maybe I should say, Depressed. I was doing okay with my diagnosis and recovery. Returning to work wasn’t ideal, but I was coping with the stress. And then I was told that not only was I anemic, but that my iron levels are low (half of the low end of the normal range). The thoughts that passed through my mind included, “FFS, not something else,” and “what if there is something wrong with my bone marrow—what if the cancer has spread there?”

I don’t know that anything is wrong with my bone marrow, but until March 1, I didn’t have cancer. I didn’t even consider it a possibility because my doctors didn’t mention it. Now it’s everywhere, even if it isn’t. And it’s depressing.

Granted, I didn’t start down this path suddenly after getting my test results. It began while I was home recovering: “What is the point of going through treatment? I’m going to make it through this, then in another year or two, it’ll be something else (this “something else” has been a consistent pattern since I moved to Sonoma County in 2000, but that’s a blog post for another time). Maybe I shouldn’t do the radiation and take my chances with the cancer. With any luck, maybe it will kill me and I can be done with life.” This thought started becoming more frequent, along with waking up every morning with a desire to stay in bed and cry all day. I didn’t, and I sought help, but that’s not the point.

What I’ve come to realize is that the world I live in, generally speaking, is concerned with the physical. When people ask me how I’m doing, what they are saying is, “how is your body after surgery,” and “how is the radiation treatment making your body feel.” My doctors never mentioned that cancer patients slip into depression and that I might want to pay attention to my emotions as I go through this process. Them and their staff don’t check in to see how I’m actually dealing with the experience of having cancer and being treated for it. Neither does anyone else. 

This isn’t a criticism or chastisement. People aren’t conditioned to ask about mental and emotional issues. It’s taboo and uncomfortable. No one wants to hear about the impact of depression for a wide variety of reasons. The only time there is open discussion about this subject is when a celebrity commits suicide. Beyond that, it’s quiet. Even as I type, I wonder if I should post this to my blog and share it, and I question my point and the relevancy of my words. However, I think that helping to create an awareness, and maybe a dialogue, is needed. I don’t know what the right phrasing is for someone to ask the question, but it still needs to be asked, sincerely and without judgement. Depression isn’t a weakness—it’s a symptom.

Addendum: This isn’t a cry for help, but more of an observation that depression does not get talked about in the context of cancer, or anything else.