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  • Writer's pictureTaffie Lynn Butters

Strategies for Well-Being: Dealing with Depression in Cancer - by Taffie Lynn Butters

Taffie Lynn Butters is a board-certified health coach at The After Cancer. She's a breast cancer survivor and is passionate about helping others recovering from cancer with lifestyle interventions.

Exploring the Emotional Roller Coaster of a Cancer Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with cancer is like being on an emotional roller coaster. The initial stage being shock and disbelief. Later comes anger, sadness, depression, bargaining, and eventually a form of acceptance. But even after the acceptance, there is often a sense of anxiety and sometimes unexplained emotions that carry on beyond treatments.

It is very common for people who receive a cancer diagnosis to experience depression and/or anxiety, especially after treatments conclude. If these feelings persist or interfere with daily life you may need to consult with your primary physician.

The Connection Between Cancer and Depression

So, what exactly is depression and why are cancer patients affected? Depression is defined as a persistent depressed mood that can cause feelings of loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy and is common among people with cancer (1). Just being diagnosed with cancer can feel depressing, but it may not necessarily be the true emotion. Instead, it may be more based in uncertainty or fear (2). While understandable, it’s important to manage the effects of stress on the body and mind that may be attributing to feelings of depression. Self-care can play an active role.

As you think back on your situation, has there been a time in your life when you have felt stressed or depressed before? It’s important to look back on past experiences, and how you may have overcome them. While your circumstances may be different now, there may be some clues that may have helped you through this tough time.

In Rebecca Walden’s blog about depression, she is able to recall a time in her life when she needed clinical help. She was able to share her experience and reflect on how she was able to overcome her depression.

Mindfulness is most powerful when we understand what is motivating us internally. While the man on the beach in Rebecca’s story was seemingly externally motivated to keep his depression in check, Rebecca had discovered and built on her internal motivation. She had made time for herself, and she had learned the power of social connection. Through the help of her care team and therapist she could articulate what were the most impactful actions that she had taken to bring her relief. She had learned that her “normal” may look different than the man on the beach, but that if depression creeps in you must be your own advocate.

What makes the biggest impact will be unique to you. Understanding what factors are playing into your feelings is a great first step. Working with a health coach can help you discover your motivations and put into action powerful lifestyle interventions to manage this stressful time in your life.

Strategies for Managing Depression and Anxiety in the Cancer Experience

Here is a list of evidence-based lifestyle therapies that have a proven impact on overall wellbeing (3).

Changing thoughts and behavior does not require being perfect. It just takes commitment to self and consistent actions. Here are a few coaching tips to get you started:

  1. Identify specific activities and times to actively relax.

  2. Use a method to measure your progress that speaks to you (i.e., check list, journaling, calendar reminders).

  3. Experiment with different therapies.

Every moment is an opportunity to change your perspective. Creating a plan for wellbeing when depression creeps in starts with small actionable steps. As Rebecca says, “There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day.”


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