Ray Murray, a computer engineer for Micron, the technology company in Plano, Texas, recommends clinicians question the true mental state of cancer survivors who project the insulated attitude that battling and surviving cancer cannot trigger massive, even fatal depression within them. Murray was in his mid-40s when he underwent prostate cancer treatment in 2010. A disciplined physicist, Murray said he refused counseling after his cancer treatment was complete and thumbed his nose at any side effects the disease and the drugs used to cure it might have. Unafraid of death, he continues to smoke and drink.
“After being told I was cured I was depressed every morning I woke up,” he said. “And I think part of the problem was that I was no longer afraid of death after beating cancer, so I did crazy things like drive 154 miles per hour.”
Trying to return to normal life after beating cancer is not always just a battle to control inner emotions. Concerns over financial stability and career standing play a big factor in introducing painful anxiety and depression after a cancer patient is freed from treatment.
Olson experienced this fear first-hand. After surviving breast cancer, she returned to work to find all of her belongings moved from a private office to a group cubicle. Her role had been reduced. Her earning power weakened by a sales realignment she was not present to have a say in. “He saw me as a sick person,” Olson says of her former boss. “He didn’t like sick people working for him.”
Many cancer survivors face challenges that rival the threat of the disease itself, said Recklitis, adding that when caregivers communicate outside the boundaries of routine cancer treatment, cancer survivors are better prepared to also survive their legacy of cancer. “Our data suggest that multiple factors of a cancer patient’s life create a significant burden on them. The patient may not even see it. They may think everything in their head is just a result of the cancer. This is where a caregiver can save a life again, even after the doctor has saved it first,” said Recklitis.
Dan Neel is a medical writer based in San Francisco, California.
1. Recklitis CJ, Zhou E, Zwemer E, et al. Prevalence and predictors of suicidal ideation in long-term prostate cancer survivors. Poster presented at Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology; May 30-June 3, 2013; Chicago, Illinois. http://meetinglibrary.asco.org/content/115557-132. Accessed August 7, 2013. Abstract 9525.
2. Recklitis C. Childhood cancer survivors experience suicidal thoughts decades after diagnosis [press release]. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. October 23, 2009. http://www.dana-farber.org/Newsroom/News-Releases/Childhood-cancer-survivors-experience-suicidal-thoughts-decades-after-diagnosis.aspx. Accessed August 7, 2013.