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I’m Cancer-Free, So Why Do I Feel So Depressed and Hopeless?

Real Talk

December 08, 2023

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Photography by Ibai Acevedo/Stocksy United

Photography by Ibai Acevedo/Stocksy United

by Maggie Hundshamer-Moshier

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Medically Reviewed by:

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

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•••••

by Maggie Hundshamer-Moshier

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW

•••••

•••••

You can be grateful for your life and knocked down by the challenges of cancer at the same time. It’s OK to make space for both.

When you think of an amputee, you might picture a man or woman with one less leg or a visibly missing arm. What you probably don’t picture is a woman in her 30s hiding mastectomy scars underneath her baggy sweatshirt.

In this case, I am that woman.

I’m officially 4-plus years cancer-free at the time of writing. My wounds are invisible to many people around me, which means they don’t know the trauma that came along with those wounds. They don’t see how empty and hopeless I feel after fighting for the life I have now.

It took me a long time to come to terms with having been sick at such a young age. You might think I’d be thankful for every single moment I have here, and yet I’ve been clinically depressed more days than not after treatment. After talking to my doctors, I found out that’s completely normal.

Choosing to share these thoughts with you is just as therapeutic to me as talking to those doctors. Here’s how I cope with depression post-cancer.

You might think I’d be thankful for every single moment I have here, and yet I’ve been clinically depressed more days than not after treatment. After talking to my doctors, I found out that’s completely normal.

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Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

The less obvious effects of treatment

Cancer treatment is grueling on the body. You travel to the hospital for months and put what feels like poison in your veins to kill off new tumor growth, but it also kills off all growth.

Hair, skin cells, and the cells fighting infections are all annihilated. After enduring all that, fear of recurrence is never far from a cancer survivor’s mind.

I freaked out about every completely normal lump or bump in my body for a year straight — a textbook hypochondriac. I made tons of doctor’s appointments and had MRI and bone scans, completely sure that I was going to die or endure treatment again.

Finally, my doctor recommended therapy to deal with the fears of recurrence that may never go away for a cancer survivor. Speaking to someone helped immensely.

I came to understand that life after cancer is like driving with a hungry puma that’s constantly ready to eat you alive in your back seat. It’s the first step to knowing that while recurrence is possible, it’s not as likely as it used to be. Time is the only thing that makes that feeling lessen.

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How cancer affects relationships

Along with fear of recurrence, another huge challenge was the loss of connection that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Your circle gets much smaller when you can’t attend crowded parties and BBQs for fear of infection.

The adage that says, “The people who matter stay,” is as real as it gets. My closest friends remained with me through every step of the process, while acquaintances I once believed to be closer made a very quiet exit.

As my circle got smaller, I felt more and more isolated. Reentering the world after cancer was extremely hard. I had panic attacks in social situations and consistently found myself making up reasons to turn down invites.

The easiest solution to feeling anxious was to slowly add things to my calendar. Start with once a month, and your routine will slowly normalize. Then, it can feel like the weight of the world isn’t as heavy.

The old version of me

Getting back to the old version of yourself likely won’t be easy for a while. For me, most of the physical side effects of chemotherapy lasted almost 2 years. Some will be permanent. Living with that can be exhausting.

I thought that once I was cancer-free and rang that bell, I was supposed to be able to go back into the world as a fully functioning human. Boy, was I wrong!

The headaches I got were insane. The stomach pains made me terrified to leave the house. The numbness in my toes had me tripping over the flat sidewalk. It felt downright embarrassing.

I began to resent choosing treatment. I started wondering why I willingly put poison in my body to live “like this.” The anger I felt at my body for betraying me began overflowing into every relationship I had.

When my kids didn’t do their chores, I would wonder why I fought as hard as I did to stay alive just to wash other people’s dirty laundry and clean their plates every night. I still feel like this from time to time, and every single time I do, I catch myself. I remind myself out loud that it’s all going to be OK.

I thought that once I was cancer-free and rang that bell, I was supposed to be able to go back into the world as a fully functioning human. Boy, was I wrong!

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Making a choice every day

It’s cliché to say that we aren’t promised tomorrow. But if cancer taught me anything at all, it’s that we really aren’t promised tomorrow. I must choose to be present, and I must choose to try to be better every single day.

Therapy has been the most helpful tool in my arsenal. Getting to talk to someone about these feelings is like offloading all the ghosts I’ve been carrying. It’s freeing.

Learn more about finding a therapist that’s right for you.

Starting new routines and not judging myself for being different after cancer has been hard but completely doable.

It’s OK to be depressed, and it’s OK not to be OK. I will urge you or anyone else struggling with these feelings to know there is help available.

It’s important to tell those closest to you when you’re feeling this way so they can help lift you up when you can’t lift yourself. We live in an age where there are entire forums online to help hold our hands and process things together.

Survivors are human

No matter what each day hands me, I find that it’s important to know I’m not alone. YOU are not alone. There is someone like me out there who is also wondering why they get to walk this earth when others don’t.

We are survivors, but we are also human. So, remember to be human and embrace those scars.

Medically reviewed on December 08, 2023


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Connect with thousands of members and find support through daily live chats, curated resources, and one-to-one messaging.

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About the author

Maggie Hundshamer-Moshier

Maggie Hundshamer-Moshier is a freelance writer, breast cancer survivor, veteran, and marketing manager who strives to make a positive impact on the world. She published a book entitled “When Daddy Comes Home” to help the children of veterans cope with PTSD. She gained notoriety on her Instagram @misadventures_of_maggie in 2018 for her raw portrayal of her cancer journey which led to her being the subject of a documentary filmed through National University. She has been featured in Welcome Home Blog and Glamour Online. She’s currently pursuing a degree in nursing with National University in hopes of helping others cope with the stresses associated with their diagnoses.

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