A few months or weeks ago you felt strong, independent, vital and in control of your life. Then you were told that you had breast cancer, that you would need help to recover, and that your journey back to health would make you dependent on others (your doctors for example) for at least six months. For even the strongest of souls, this is often too much to deal with, and short-term depression and sadness is common.

It is virtually impossible to go through your cancer treatment without having some sort of emotional response. The most common emotions you can expect to feel are anger, fear, sadness, guilt and anxiety, served up with a huge sense of unfairness, powerlessness and helplessness. These emotions can be so overwhelming that you become depressed.

Depression describes a wide range of feelings but it is often described as prolonged sadness, or extreme sadness: when your spirits become really low and you cannot cope with ordinary day-to-day things.

Depression is really anger turned inward on your self. It happens when your feelings of helplessness and anger are not expressed properly and worked through with yourself, a loved one or a qualified professional.

Uphill Climb

Obviously a positive mood is best for beating cancer so how do you pull yourself up by the bootstraps?

Working through your emotions will help you accept your situation. Once you can think of your breast cancer diagnosis without anger or guilt, you will feel more hopeful and less despairing. This will enable you to focus on future life goals, treatments and plans.

Talk to someone about your depression! If you are unable to even voice your depression then give this article to the person who is supporting you through your cure. This easily opens the channels to communicating what it is that you are feeling.

Relaxation exercises, changing negative thoughts and acknowledging your anger, grief and loss can all help you to deal with depression. Prayer and meditation also help to lessen feelings of anguish and sadness. Joining a cancer support group where you can meet survivors should also help.


Talk to your treatment team about your depression. They may recommend an anti-depressant to help you cope. Unfortunately anti-depressants are not fast acting and it can sometimes take between two to six weeks before you notice improvement in your mood.

If you are struggling to sleep at night this can make your depression worse. Again, your treatment team can prescribe a sleeping tablet to help you over the worst of your depression.

If you have any of the following symptoms for longer than 6 to 8 weeks please seek medical help:
  • You lose interest in things that you used to enjoy
  • You sleep too much or too little
  • You lose your appetite
  • You are constantly tired
  • You can’t think clearly or concentrate
  • You feel guilty or worthless
  • You think of suicide.

This is an adapted excerpt from the Cancer Coping Kit, a free audio programme to help people overcome the challenges of a cancer diagnosis.To order your free copy of the Cancer Coping Kit contact CANSA on 0800 22 66 22.The Cancer Coping Kit is available in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and seSotho.

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