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Cancer Depression – No Denying It Haunts Us All

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Malecare is America’s largest volunteer men’s cancer support group and advocacy nonprofit organization. 


Joel Nowak is its Director of Advocacy & Advanced Prostate Cancer Programs.  He is a survivor of Thyroid, Recurrent Prostate and Renal Cancers.


If you do not already read his Advanced Prostate Cancer Blog and Newsletter, it is well worth doing so.


Joel has kindly given us permission to reproduce the following article from his blog. (The article has been edited to remove 2 paragraphs with US references that are not applicable to men in Australia).


"Cancer Depression – No Denying It Haunts Us All


We all are subject to developing depression and prostate cancer survivors are subject to a large share of it.  Besides dealing with the everyday issues of living our life, we also are hounded by our diagnosis.   However, it is important to understand that there are everyday types of depression and what is referred to as clinical depression.  Understanding the differences and how to deal with depression is important.


The everyday types of depression are caused by bumps in the road of life.  Over time, we can learn to accept these problems or take steps to resolve them and put the depression aside.


Clinical depression is a medical condition that becomes part of your consciousness, obstructs your ability to function and requires the attention of a mental health practitioner.  If you find your world darkened by feelings of depression; if you withdraw from social encounters, lack the any energy or will, or just don’t get pleasure in anything anymore; if you are eating too much or getting too little sleep or can’t sleep at all, feel fatigued or if you believe you are experiencing a complete personality change, you might be suffering from clinical depression.


Having a cancer diagnosis, especially of advanced prostate cancer, in and of itself is significant.  For many of us, especially as we make our way through the treatment process, clinical depression comes with the territory.  But it can be managed.


If you find that you are becoming clinically depressed:

  • Seek the help of a social worker, psychologist and a psychiatrist, one who works with oncology patients. Counseling can:
    • Help you develop ways to cope with your diagnosis.
    • Understand the meaning and implications of your diagnosis.
    • Help you make better treatment choices.
    • Help you manage your feelings.
    • Help you develop better communication skills with your families, friends and healthcare providers.
    • Manage your symptoms, drug side effects, pain and fatigue.
    • Deal with some of the financial burdens you face.
    • Deal with workplace issues resulting from your cancer or its treatments.
    • Understand and devise coping mechanisms to resolve cancer related sexuality issues created by the cancer and its treatments.
    • Develop strategies to enter the post treatment world.
  • Exercise regularly; it has shown to not only to enhance physical health, but also as an excellent way to combat depression. Walk, walk, and walk some more.


There are a number of different ways to find an appropriate counselor;

  • Ask your oncologist or their clinical nurse about counseling services available at your hospital or cancer treatment center.
  • Ask your oncologist or clinical nurse for referrals to counselors and counseling services in your community.
  • Find out if your employer has an employee assistance program (EAP) that provides counseling services.
  • Check with your prostate cancer brothers from a support group for recommendations of counselors experienced in treating men with prostate cancer.


  • Reduce stress in your life.  There is some evidence that the stress hormone cortisol encourages the growth of cancer cells.  Higher and more prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream (like those associated with chronic stress) have been shown to have deleterious effects, such as: impaired cognitive performance, suppressed thyroid function, blood sugar imbalances, including hyperglycemia, decreased bone density, loss of muscle tissue, elevated blood pressure, lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, also increased abdominal fat, which is associated with more health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body, including heart attacks, strokes, the development of metabolic syndrome (elevated levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), leading to even more health problems!


  • Get a pet!  Pets are known to improve the quality of life and our physical health.  There have been many studies that show that the physical stroking of a pet lowers our blood pressure and increases the levels of (good) mood related hormones serotonin and dopamine.  When I was having trouble walking my family gave me a dog, Charlie. I now walk Charlie several times a day, getting much needed exercise besides having a constant companion and a great friend.

To read more about cancer and depression go to the NCCN web site at:

http://www.nccn.com/life-after-cancer/133-dfci-nccn-survivorship-depression-anxiety.html "

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Some Australian resources for depression:


Beyondblue Helpline: 1300 22 4636
(24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

“We all have good days and bad days. Then there are those days when something isn't quite right, you've got something on your mind, or things just seem too much. Whatever it may be, sharing the load with someone else can really help. So no matter who you are, or how you're feeling, you can talk it through with us.”



Includes interactive checklists, fact sheets on anxiety, depression, information on available treatments, how to help someone with depression, how to reduce stress and sleeping well.


Cancer Council Helpline: 13 11 20
(9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday - some states have extended hours)

As well as offering emotional or practical support, the Cancer Council can provide information on mental health professionals in your local region, particularly those who have experience in working with people with cancer.

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