Friday, September 13, 2013

#BloodCancerAwarenessMonth Q&A: "I'm in remission! Why am I so depressed?"

Over the years, I've received thousands of emails about Bald in the Land of Big Hair, a memoir about my experience with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A cancer diagnosis brings a firestorm of questions, and as a survivor, I can sympathize, but I'm not an expert; many times I just don't have the answers. So this year during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I've asked Ashley Rodgers (Masters in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling), to respond to some FAQs about the emotional and psychological aspects of the cancer journey. 

Q: Everyone was amazed by my positive attitude during chemo. I worked hard to stay upbeat, and I thought everything would be fine once my remission was confirmed. Instead I feel depressed and more alone than I've ever felt in my life. Why can't I just get back to normal?

Ashley says:
I understand that you are feeling alone now and might be confused by that since remission is usually imagined with feelings of happiness and relief. But consider this, when you were in treatment, how many people did you work with regularly to stay on top of your health and the effectiveness of treatment? How often do you meet with those medical professionals and supportive connections now?

Often times, patients experience this depressed state after being told they are in remission because they no longer have to go into the hospital or clinic as often, check ups are more spaced out and contact with the doctors is just to see if you have maintained the status of your last visit. It is less intense, and therefore you feel neglected and alone. This is normal. Your social support network has changed dramatically, so you must now change with it and find your “new normal.” One way to do that is to focus on rebuilding your social support network. Here are some ways to do that:

Initiate conversation and interaction with your friends and family. They might not be as involved as they were while you were currently undergoing treatment, but that does not necessarily mean they do not want to still be involved now. They might be under the impression that now that you are “better” you do not need them as much. Reach out to them and reconnect. Let them know you still need their support as you move forward as a survivor.

Join a survivors support group. This could be group therapy or an activities group full of members that have gone through a similar experience. Both are helpful in different ways. Group therapy helps you process what you went through and are now experiencing with the added bonus of others in the room that are sharing the same stories. An activities group helps you make new connections with people who understand your situation personally, not just as an onlooker or caregiver. These could be friendships that last a lifetime.

Volunteer to give back. Find an organization that helps patients and survivors. Do for others. This helps you feel good about what you are doing because the organization you are helping will continue to help others beyond your ability. This connects to you because you are able to help propel that reach by donating your time and effort. You will be helping others that went through or are still going through what you experienced.

You may be feeling low now, but know that you just need to adjust to a new normal. Take control of what that new normal is by deciding who to reconnect with, where to volunteer, what group to join or whoever else you want to include in your new life.

For more on “getting back to normal” after remission, check out this article on the Baylor website: "I'm in Remission. Now What?"

We welcome your questions and comments.

*No part of this blog or the book Bald in the Land of Big Hair should be misconstrued as or substituted for medical advice.

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