Depression Increases Cancer Patients’ Risk of Dying – this is the title of an article on the American Cancer Society website by David Sampson, Director, Medical & Scientific Communications. It relates to a study by Jillian Satin, MA, of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, and her colleagues who analyzed all of the studies to date they could identify related to the topic.
Jillian Satin says: “We found an increased risk of death in patients who report more depressive symptoms than others and also in patients who have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder compared to patients who have not.”
The article goes on to say: “The investigators note that the actual risk of death associated with depression in cancer patients is still small, so patients should not feel that they must maintain a positive attitude to beat their disease. Nevertheless, the study indicates that it is important for physicians to regularly screen cancer patients for depression and to provide appropriate treatments.”
As a cancer survivor with a history of undiagnosed depression, I know how important it was for me to be treated for depression when I was going through chemotherapy and thought my life was over. Fortunately I was able to work through depression and negative thinking with the help of a psychiatrist at UBC. She offered me drugs which I refused, and instead I opted for a course in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Along with other tools, I was able to turn my life around and regain my health. I still have bouts of depression from time to time, but they are short lived compared to the bouts I had before CBT.
I know people with cancer who say they don’t believe in positive thinking, and health care providers who say patients should not have to “think positive”. I agree that pretending to be positive when you’re feeling stressed or depressed is not a wise thing to do. However, I believe I would have died long ago if I hadn’t managed to convert my negative thinking and depression into positive thinking and hope, so that I would live to see my children grow up.
The key is to do the work to get rid of negative thoughts and depression. CBT has been proven to be an effective way to control depression, but it takes a willingness to work on it and requires an element of support, as it is very difficult to do this alone.
I know how hard it is to be in the depths of depression; I’ve been there, with thoughts of being so miserable I wanted my life to end. Usually what happened to break that cycle was for me to find something else to focus on, and force myself to put time and effort into getting busy with that. Gradually I could feel myself in a bit of an upward spiral and with sheer determination I would climb up out of the deep, dark, pit where I had previously seen myself trapped. It was helpful to find something to work towards and to think about besides the bottom of that pit.
When I hear people say “I don’t believe in positive thinking” it makes me cringe, because I would not want to go back to that state where I was such a negative thinker. My life has improved 100% since I learned to see things in a different light and focus on positive thoughts every day.
I ask the question “What do you want more of in your life?” If the answer is love, peace, and joy, then I encourage people to do what it takes to reach out for those things which bring happiness.
Cancer is a cruel disease, but it can also teach us some valuable lessons. My experience has taught me to live one day at a time, and to pay attention to the good things in life. I have many positive emotions which feel so much better than the negative emotions I used to spend time with. Now when those negative emotions appear, I am able to process them and let them go, so they can be replaced with love, compassion, and forgiveness for me as well as for others.