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Spotting Depression During Cancer Treatment

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Published on October 8, 2019

Key Takeaways

  • Are you feeling overwhelming sadness or like you don't have a reason to get out of bed in the morning?
  • Tell your medical team how you're feeling or make sure that your caregiver can let them know.
  • Set small goals for body movement like taking a walk down the hallway and stay engaged in things you enjoy like playing card games.

Life with cancer is frequently accompanied with bouts of depression, but how do you spot depression among many symptoms?  Brianna Garrison, an MD Anderson Cancer Center social worker, speaks candidly to patients about asking for help when it is needed and the importance of honesty with your healthcare team. Brianna talks about various actions patients can take to help alleviate symptoms, including the therapeutic effects of exercise and how setting small, achievable goals could be the key to avoiding depression.

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Transcript |

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That's how you’ll get care that's most appropriate for you.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrew Schorr:

Any of us touched by cancer, if you look at the statistics, there’s a higher likelihood that you actually will face real clinical depression. So when do we, what are the signs of that? Or what would a family member say in as far as getting help for that?

Brianna Garrison:

So the first thing I’ll say about that is to be very honest with your medical team when you go to your visits and they’re asking you about symptoms to be very honest about how you are feeling. Are you feeling tired? Are you feeling more tired than usual? Are you feeling more sad than usual? it’s okay to feel sad, especially considering your diagnosis and your life changes and things like that. Are you having times where you feel hopeless? And, again, some of those things are normal, but then we want to look at how is that impacting and interfering with your life. 

And so one is being up front about that with your medical team. If you don’t feel like you can, making sure that your caregiver has the option to kind of step in and say those things. As you’re thinking about symptoms, you know those medications the hard thing with depression is the side effects from the medication and the symptoms of depression sometimes overlap. And so you think, well, I’m just feeling really tired. Well, how many days have you felt tired, and what’s your reason for feeling tired? Is it really a physical I can’t get out of bed because of the side effects of the medication, or is it I don’t really have a reason to get up today? You know, I don’t want to face the day. I don’t want to have to think about having to do the things that I do differently. Are you having sadness, overwhelming sadness, crying about things that that you normally wouldn’t cry about? And that’s okay. 

I think the biggest thing that you need to know is that a lot of people, probably a lot of people in this room have experienced the same thing. And there are things that can be managed. That doesn’t mean it’s chronic. It can be time-limited and circumstantial, but there are things that can be managed. One, through talk therapy and things like that but also medications. There are lot of ways to kind of alleviate those symptoms, that you don’t have to be overwhelmed by them, and your life doesn’t have to be impacted.

Andrew Schorr:

There was a study that came out about exercise for people even during treatment. So you talked about things you can’t do. And you’re sitting in a wheelchair. You used to run a marathon, but you’re not gonna do it today. But there are things you can do. Can you just talk for a second about the therapeutic effects of exercise, even just a little bit?

Brianna Garrison:

Yeah, and so just like we were talking earlier, you know, setting those little things. You know, even on the inpatient side, there are things that you can do to get your blood flowing, whether you’re physically up or you’re sitting up, you’re moving your arms, even if it’s small amounts of time. So, again, those things we talked about, making sure that you’re setting those small goals. So today for one of my meals I’m gonna try to sit all the way up, I’m gonna try to sit in a chair, move to a different room, get into a new environment. You know, making sure that you’r’e keeping a routine. So at 10:00, I’m gonna do something. It may not be a big thing, but it’s gonna be something. So whether it’s a walk down the hallway if you’re feeling a little bit of pain, or I’m gonna play cards or find something that you’re interested in so that you’re keeping your mind alert, you’re keeping engaged in those things.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.