Supporting women whose lives have been touched by breast cancer

Post Treatment Depression

by X

Feeling down at the end of treatment

The breast care nurse told me that I should prepare myself for a year of treatment - and then I would be able to get my life back. It was sound advice at the time - I needed to understand that I would have to adapt to what was going to happen. There followed 6 gruelling doses of FEC, a mastectomy (with a post op infection) and rads. By September the hospital appointments were almost over and my GP was talking about me going back to work - I had been off since the surgery. But I was still bald, the tamoxifen was making me sweat too much to tolerate my wig, I had fatigue from the radiotherapy and I still had a lot of post surgery pain. All of these things, individually were surmountable, but the cumulative effect was to reduce me to a blubbering wreck. I felt that I was a useless wife, mother, friend and sister, not to mention that I could no longer do my job.

I tried talking to my family, friends and work colleagues about it and though they were great, it didn't help. My (much loved) husband wanted it all to be over - he wanted me to leave it behind me and move on. My closest friend said she was looking forward to the day that she could phone me up and not have to ask me how I was! My boss was very gentle about coming back on phased return, but I still could not visualise myself at work or coping with even basic office interactions. I felt that not only was I feeble and pathetic, but I was letting all these people down. All the time the BCN's advice was in my head - it was now time to get my life back. The trouble was I no longer recognised the life that I had led before - nor myself. I talked a lot online on the BCC website, sharing a little of how I felt, but mainly talking endlessly about the treatments and the impact they'd had. I didn't seem to be able to let it go, even though the treatment was effectively over.

My sister phoned one particularly bad day and immediately picked up on what was going on. She came to stay for a week straight away. Initially the idea was to come and help me at home - to cook and wash and clean. Instead we quickly agreed that the best therapy was going out for walks and long lunches while my family were out at work and school. It must have been very hard work, but she made me laugh and helped me pick out some new clothes (I was having a confidence crisis about that too). By the end of her stay I was still far from OK, but I had managed to get just a little bit of perspective back.

I had been driving myself through for the radiotherapy every day and I had called in to the local Maggie's Centre for a quick cup of tea each time. It took me ages to pluck up the courage to ask about some counselling. But I didn't have to wait, the counsellor saw me the following week. That first appointment I cried, without stopping, for a full hour. She told me that it was entirely normal to feel the way I did and even showed me diagrams which described what I had thought was my unique Pit of Misery . The diagrams also showed that people do get through this stage and start to feel better - although at first I didn't believe it. At the second appointment I cried too, but this time I managed to speak a bit. By the third appointment I was starting to talk about all the anger and confusion I felt about what had happened to me. I had lost control over my body and my life - it became apparent that I would have to claim it back, but in very, very small stages. I had to start with the medical team who'd treated me - I had a lot of unresolved issues, then I had to find support wherever I could. Finally, I had to try going back to work, but do it very slowly.

I went to see the BCN again. We talked for almost an hour about the treatments and how I felt now physically and emotionally. She counselled me to allow myself time to get better in both respects, not to fight the fatigue or the depression. By the end of the appointment I felt well enough to challenge her why she hadn't told me that I might feel this way - I was definitely getting better!

It was only at this point that I found my way to this site (I would have got here sooner had BCC not had a particularly stupid policy about not carrying links). There is no place now I'd rather be than here whenever I feel in the slightest bit low. It was on this site that I found the link to the Dr Peter Harvey article "After the Treatment Finishes - then what?"

I'm not saying that if i'd found this earlier that anything would have been different - but it has helped me a great deal since then. I'm far from alone; this is all quite normal and yet another side effect of cancer. My husband refers to you all as my "breastie" friends - he now understands that you're good for me and that the need for support doesn't magically disappear.

I soon started back at work, two hours a day, alternate days. Within a week I was working half time and by the end of the month, full time. I still have to be careful about not overdoing things - if I get tired, I'm useless - but I am doing my job again and I am managing it. I find it tough to keep on top of things at home. I know I should be asking the family to do more to help and that I probably ought to consider getting some paid help in too, but that's a battle for another day.

My emotional health may be much better, but I must never forget the gremlins that are waiting round the corner!