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Topic: Mental Illness and Cancer

Forum: Emotional Crises: Anxiety, Depression & Other Emotional Effects —

Meet and support others who are affected by these issues around breast cancer fears, diagnosis and treatment.

Posted on: Sep 10, 2010 02:28PM

bellapazza wrote:

Hi all brave women here.

Though I am fortunate enough to have a therapist and will be starting a support group soon, I have had serious anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), Depersonalization (feelings of unreality - NOT psychotic), and clinical depression my entire life, and I'm 51.  I also came from a seriously destructive family situation.

This is waaaaaay too much.  I'm more afraid for my mental health than the cancer right now.  I'm awaiting info on chemo, but I also know I am instructed to take Tamoxifen for 5 years.  The side effects of all of this are unbearable for ANY woman, but for me, I swear I feel I will end up in a psych ward.  I already have stress related IBS.

I have heard from my therapist and oncologist that they have both treated individuals with mental illness and breast cancer -- individuals with everything from schizoprhenia to bipolar to you name it.  They indeed seem to have survived.  But I am absolutely terrified.

And I have enough baggage to begin with, I fear I will NEVER have a loving relationship with a man, ever.  My marriage is ... well, we live 3,000 miles apart.

I am new here and have seen a few posts re: individuals w/depression/anxiety/PTSD as a result of  this miserable experience, but not many posts on individuals who were mentally ill before this happened.

Is there a specific forum for that?  I am so freakin' terrified I will end up barely functioning.  I know it takes tremendous strenght to make it through this, and it is a lifetime concern.

I know I have no control over things, and now that is a problem ... I feel a complete loss of control re: the years ahead.

Venting and petrified.  Trying to keep occupied and focused on other things.

Thank you for listening.

Take Care All

Tamoxifen 9/26/10, Oncotype 10 Dx 7/13/2010, IDC, 2cm, Stage II, Grade 2, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Sep 10, 2010 04:32PM - edited Sep 10, 2010 04:33PM by ICanDoThis

Well, like you, I come from a family that is totally nuts, but was not in treatment for emotional distress when I was diagnosed. I did have another support network, though.

I wasn't as smart as you, and I didn't go to a therapist when I first started treatment. But afterwards, oh, man! Research has shown that most of us who fall seriously apart after treatment were people who had had traumatic incidents earlier. So, we do get what you are talking about.

What I want you to know is that, not only did I get through treatment, I got through the emotional part of treatment as well. I really am ok now. I have bouts of anxiety around my checkups and mammos, but, today I prefer not to think of myself as mentally ill, I'm merely occasionally neurotic. With a capital N. LOL

Don't be scared (yeah, right. I was terrified). It's not fun, but it can all be done. And most women do not die of BC, or have serious long-term side effects. Honest. You can join treatment groups on here, and make some really good support connections. I belong to a team of women who do the Komen Race for the Cure together every year.  

If you would like to talk further in private, you can send me a private message through the tab on the top right side of the screen.

Good luck.

Sue - Proud to be Krista's Mom Dx 12/28/2007, IDC, Left, 1cm, Stage IA, Grade 1, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- (FISH)
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Sep 10, 2010 05:03PM hymil wrote:

A fair few of us have pre-existing physical or emotional troubles before getting BC, and having more than one major illness at a time -yes, it's a heap to deal with. I had a hormone related serious postnatal illness and knew i could expect a high risk (like about 50%) of relapse at menopause (if not before, Great!) so when they wanted to put me on Tamoxifen at 49 (Pre-moeno) i had to say No I have other thoughts about that  The oncologists don't get it. they only see the cancer, they haven't had to llive inside a chaotic head! It can be a real puzzle when treatment for one interferes with another.

It sounds like you do have good support and therapists who can take a wholistic approach and you took a good step for yourself by coming here - hang on with us and all the best!

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Sep 10, 2010 05:30PM sheila888 wrote:

bellapazza I just sent you a PM (Private Message).

You are limited 5 posts a day until you reach 50 posts.

You can PM anybody by clicking their names and follow instructions. There is no limit on the Private Messages.

When you see a pink sign over Private Messages sign just click on it to open it.

We care


Sheila♥ Dx 4/8/2005, IDC, Right, 1cm, Stage IA, Grade 2, 0/1 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2+ Dx 8/21/2015, IDC, Left, 1cm, Stage IIB, Grade 2, 1/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 10/14/2015 Mastectomy: Left; Prophylactic mastectomy: Right Surgery
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Sep 10, 2010 07:34PM squidwitch42 wrote:


What I am hearing is you have a lot of strengths.  You are already putting a plan in action to help you with your current anxiety regarding treatment.  You are vocalizing your concerns and fears (that which we face head on will become weaker/smaller in nature.) I feel positive for you, because I know you are going to utilize avenues and professionals to help you.  Many of us come from difficult family histories, or have baggage.  I am not trying to minimize your history at all, just saying you can use that baggage to your advantage.  You know what depression is all about, and some people get hit with it hard for the first time at diagnoses.  You have already developed tools to deal with your anxiety, depersonalization and depression while functioning in the world.  You will be able to be present with other women (and men) who have a cancer diagnosis and are suffering depression.

certainly a Psychiatrist can also work closely with you to help minimize any side effects from tamoxifan.  Take Effexor for instance....I can't speak for tamoxifen, but they found it to be useful in post-menopausal women to help mediate the flushing/hot flashes.  Yes, everything feels out of control..and to quote my Social Worker who runs our cancer support group....Control is just an illusion.

You may also find some yoga studios offer major discounts or free yoga for women with Breast Cancer.  (I swim to deal with anxiety, and do Psuedo Yoga in the pool.)  One thing that I found helpful is that there are a lot of groups and activities for those of us with this dang diagnosis. I also have pudendal nerve damage from surgeries related to endometriosis.  Now that's one heck of an isolating "disease..." We couldn't even have a support group meeting if we tried because none of us could sit for very long.  So someday's I'm like yeay! finally a diagnosis with lots of fellow Warriors!  and yes, lifetime hx of depression, adult onset PTSD...general anxiety disorder.  Party time!  so you are in good company. Feel free to PM me, but my votes on you making it through stronger at the end of this.

Traci :)

PS...relationships are a whole "nuther ball of wax :)

Dx 10/2/2009, IDC, 4cm, Stage IIA, Grade 3, 0/7 nodes, ER-/PR-, HER2-
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Sep 10, 2010 11:17PM - edited Sep 10, 2010 11:18PM by 1Athena1

I have a serious mental illness (see profile) and I find that it changes my perspective on everything. It worries me as much as if not more than the cancer, bellapazza, so I know exactly what you mean.

It makes me stronger, but also more vulnerable. Triggers can come easily. FOR EXAMPLE, IT DRIVES ME NUTS WHEN I SEE THOSE THREADS STARTED BY SOME NOT-EVEN DIAGNOSED NEWBIES WITH CAPS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!!! SAYING HOW SCARED THEY ARE AND, OH, HELP ME PLEASE!!!!. Meanwhile, the Stage IV sisters are so discreet and levelheaded that I am almost envious.

It puts us in a different league. We may see mortality through a different prism.

And I am sorry for all the women who are going through breast cancer-triggered depression and PTSD. At least I was lucky to experience Hell before cancer.

If I had any advice for people like me with serious mental illnesses coming into cancer it would be that the mind should always come first. Never put your body through a treatment you don't think your mind can stand. 

Best to all who post on this special thread. 

Anyone diagnosed with cancer should learn to have a healthy disrespect for statistics. Statistics are maths. It's the science which still eludes us. Dx 3/2009, IDC, 3cm, Stage IIB, Grade 3, 3/8 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Sep 11, 2010 12:40PM - edited Sep 11, 2010 01:29PM by Medigal

This Post was deleted by Medigal.
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Sep 11, 2010 01:10PM - edited Sep 11, 2010 01:15PM by 1Athena1

Please don't tell me you are talking to me. If you have to ask what a mental illness is, even slightly rhetorically, then you haven't the foggiest idea of what you are talking about.

That business about "we a re all a little crazy" is truly ignorant.

Maybe we a are all a little bc, right? I mean so many people have lumpy breasts that perhaps we diagnosed people shouldn't feel so alone...

BTW, the psychiatrist I had at the time of breast cancer diagnosis was also not equippied to cope with the double challenge I faced. What happened to me as a result does not classify me as fortunate.

Anyone diagnosed with cancer should learn to have a healthy disrespect for statistics. Statistics are maths. It's the science which still eludes us. Dx 3/2009, IDC, 3cm, Stage IIB, Grade 3, 3/8 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Sep 11, 2010 01:28PM - edited Sep 11, 2010 01:30PM by Medigal

1Athena1:  No I was not talking about you.  I just read your profile and yes what you have even that dumb ass former therapist of mine would say was a true diagnosis of a mental illness which can be treated.  I was referring to the poster who put the original post on. She seemed to be talking about anxiety and depression which I was told (by my former therapist) is not considered a "mental illness" in the true form of the word.  Who doesn't have anxiety and depression in the world we now live in? However, I was not referring to people who have to endure bc or any other chronic disease while battleling a true mental illness.  Frankly, I would not know how they could deal with all that has to be done to survive bc. 

I think there should be more therapists or psychiatrists who can treat people who need emotional help in dealing with bc and the fears that come with it.  I am sorry you took my post so personally.  As to anyone else on here who has been diagnosed with what our society deems a true mental illness, please disregard my post.  If was not aimed at you.  I was referring to the rest of us who live daily with anxiety and maybe even depression if we are on the Als.  I also don't think being "nuts" is the same as being truly diagnosed "crazy"!  I will try to be careful of the terms I use before reading your profiles. In fact, I will delete the post so as not of offend any one else.

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Sep 11, 2010 01:32PM MrsNice wrote:

My favorite phrase from my therapist is, "There is no normal.  There is functional, and dysfunctional."  I have Major Depressive Disorder with some PTSD thrown in for good measure - all for many years before my BC diagnosis.  I have found a medication cocktail that works for me, and feel fully functional, ALMOST every day.  But there are still dark days that find me staring into space, staying in bed in my darkened bedroom, drinking too much wine, overeating, etc.  I had depression and PTSD for years without treatment, and didn't even think that the events of my childhood/family of origin would result in PTSD.  Boy was I WRONG.  I didn't seek treatment until after my mother died 10 years ago; by then I was so depressed I couldn't even drive.  In therapy I learned that I had likely been depressed since my father died when I was 13, so I went 24 years without mental health.  I'm doing well now, so I believe it is possible to recover to a highly functional state.

Anyway, Bella,  I agree with the others that you are thinking ahead, and know that there is a potential ahead for difficulties.  Communication is key - if you and your doctors can establish and maintain a theme of teamwork and collaboration, that will provide a solid foundation during your treatment so that everyone is aware of your status.  As patients, we have to be the ones to take charge.  If you have a doc that won't play nice with everyone, keep looking until you find one that will.

YOU CAN DO THIS BELLA!!!  And we'll be right with you as much as you want.  There is love in these boards !!!

BLOG: www.kathyinwonderland.wordpress.com Godspeed! Dx 5/19/2010, IDC, 3cm, Stage IIB, Grade 2, 1/16 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Sep 11, 2010 01:40PM - edited Sep 11, 2010 02:27PM by 1Athena1

Thank you for the clarification, Medigal, and I am sorry if I was jumpy.

Ahhh -- as for the debate on when something becomes an illness....that is actually the subject of some very heated exchanges in the psychiatric clinical research community, because they are currently working on the new Daignostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and there is controversy due to what some leading researchers see as the over-medicalizing of emotions. My illness isn't affected, but situations such as anxiety and depression, which are not only very common but also exist on a very wide continuum, are indirectly the subject of this debate. There are depressive disorders and anxiety disorders which are truly crippling, but it is true that almost everyone has felt a little bit of both at times in their lives.

I think of sanity/insanity in the same way as I think of beauty and intelligence: nobody really knows how to define it, but you know it when you see (feel) it! :-)

Edited for typos

Anyone diagnosed with cancer should learn to have a healthy disrespect for statistics. Statistics are maths. It's the science which still eludes us. Dx 3/2009, IDC, 3cm, Stage IIB, Grade 3, 3/8 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Sep 11, 2010 01:43PM MrsNice wrote:

adding to my favorites

BLOG: www.kathyinwonderland.wordpress.com Godspeed! Dx 5/19/2010, IDC, 3cm, Stage IIB, Grade 2, 1/16 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Sep 11, 2010 01:49PM squidwitch42 wrote:


I enjoyed your post!

Dx 10/2/2009, IDC, 4cm, Stage IIA, Grade 3, 0/7 nodes, ER-/PR-, HER2-
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Sep 12, 2010 12:46AM bellapazza wrote:

Thanks all of you.  And Ahtena, I'd say you and I are clearly on the same page, and I take strength from you.

I appreciate all of the comments.  I understand that this experience itself is extremely traumatic for anyone, with or without a pre-existing mental illness.  I am glad these days that I can and do lay it on the line (it's taken me most of my life to "come out of the closet" with my problems) -- and I greatly appreciate those who have said I am strong.

It makes me feel ... sad.  But a good sad.

It was quite amazing. I begged the anesthesiologist before my mastectomy to "put me under until the last moment" as I become incredibly dissociated under "pre-op twilight sleep."  He was amazing.  He listened.  And he said, he had other individuals with various mental illnesses scared of anesthesia.  One woman across from me in pre-op was concerned about hallucinations!

He was sweet enough to visit my room the day after and check on me.  He said he was glad I spoke about my condition so he could do his best job.  I wanted to throw my arms around him.

But it was amazing how HE knew (he must have been about 50) of psychiatric patients having trouble with anesthesia.  That's when I got into a panic (last week or so, surgery was 8/18) about the potential effects of chemo and tamoxifen.  Also of having to possibly stop one med I am on.

Surgery is one thing, but months/years of a medication that can CAUSE or worsen psychiatric symptoms is unbearable to think of.  Yes, I am at this moment, more frightened of my state of mind and ability to function daily than the fear of the cancer.  Swear it.

I'm more calm now.  Reading this.  As someone mentioned ... yoga!  I wish I could get back to doing more -- still stiff, but also living in the moment, even meditation, and all the distraction I can find.  Not catastrophizing as I do.

Just words of encouragement and hope make a huge difference.

I wish we all weren't in this situation, but thank God we're not alone.


Tamoxifen 9/26/10, Oncotype 10 Dx 7/13/2010, IDC, 2cm, Stage II, Grade 2, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Sep 12, 2010 12:48AM bellapazza wrote:

OOps, Athena!

Tamoxifen 9/26/10, Oncotype 10 Dx 7/13/2010, IDC, 2cm, Stage II, Grade 2, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Sep 13, 2010 01:43PM ICanDoThis wrote:

You sound startled that the woman across from you was concerned about hallucinations from pre-op sedation. Well, as someone who had knights in armor swinging their swords around my gurney, I can tell you that I'll never take that awful stuff again.

Sue - Proud to be Krista's Mom Dx 12/28/2007, IDC, Left, 1cm, Stage IA, Grade 1, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- (FISH)
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Sep 13, 2010 02:56PM Medigal wrote:

They once gave me a strong pain medication in a hospital that I told the idiots I could not take and it caused such a hallucination, I was trying to jump out of the window and we were several stories high!

 Boy!  Did they hear it from me when I came back to my"real" senses!  I insisted they fire that idiot nurse and I think they did!  It was  better than me sueing the hospital.  Those are dangerous places!!

Now I put up big written signs on the walls behind my bed telling them what they can and cannot give me.  I could have ended up squashed like a bug or in the booby hatch!

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Sep 13, 2010 07:48PM bellapazza wrote:

ROFL at ICanDoThis and Medigal.  Lord have mercy!

Medigal, I didn't mean to open a can of worms here either, but clinical depression and severe anxiety are indeed neurological disorders -- and they have hampered my functioning since childhood.  An individual with reactive depression (say from this misery!) can actually fall into a clinical depression that does need medication.

There is a lot of mental illness in my family. Kinda' got handed down.

But I am feeling better NOW, listening to some reason here, figuring, I'm constantly putting the cart before the horse.  Tamoxifen for example can cause depression and anxiety.  That made me terrified (I don't want the stuff I already have to get exacerbated).  And the chemo ... well, when I am physically ill my symptoms get much worse.

I was also encouraged today by my dentist!  Got a "pre-emptive" teeth cleaning.  He has a son who has bipolar and Aspergers.  That is a vicious combo.  He had cancer, had to go through chemo and did not decompensate.  I take that as a VERY good sign.  I'm also thankful that I can apparently stay on my medications.

Waiting for the Oncotype Dx.  Thursday.  One day at a time. One challenge at a time.  I have been letting all the little miseries crash down on me at once, when I know, I can only control one thing at a time.

Then of course, I want to come out the other end of this mess HEALTHY and have some peace of mind.

Again, thank you all!

Tamoxifen 9/26/10, Oncotype 10 Dx 7/13/2010, IDC, 2cm, Stage II, Grade 2, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Sep 13, 2010 08:09PM Medigal wrote:

bellapazza:  I think for what you have been through and your great "healthy" attitude about functioning with bc, you are already doing great!  I was always concerned about becoming clinically depressed since I have had so many other medical problems but until Arimidex I was able to control my problems without medication.  I guess I should have not torn up the RX for an anti-depressant when it was given to me with the Arimidex but I don't like to have "any" drugged feelings.  I like to be totally in control of everything I do.  So when my emotions overflow for no reason, I have my crying spell, which for me works better than any med, and then I am fine for the rest of the day.  However, I do have to rely on my half of Klonopin once a day for anxiety which they told me is due to having two brain surgeries.  We do what we have to do, right?

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Oct 11, 2010 07:42PM - edited Aug 20, 2013 05:55AM by Mindy60

I have two psychiatric dx but like to gently describe my condition as a "mood disorder" and disclose that I have a history of childhood trauma. I am bipolar and have PTSD. I, too, am on a therapeutic cocktail and also have a therapist to work out the rest of the kinks.

My shrink told me he wants to see me once a week when I start on tamoxifen. We don't even know if I will be doing chemo yet and am concerned with that also. But I will strongly suggest to my med onco to take my mental health into consideration when choosing a treatment option.
Mindy Dx 7/21/2010, IDC, Right, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 8/30/2010 Lymph node removal: Left, Right, Sentinel; Mastectomy: Left, Right Hormonal Therapy 10/16/2010 Arimidex (anastrozole) Surgery 3/3/2011 Reconstruction (left); Reconstruction (right)
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Oct 13, 2010 11:49PM kcshreve wrote:

I wholeheartedly support the comment that the mind has to be considered first and foremost regarding the upcoming meds.  Great comment.  Practical and so true.

Bilat NS DIEP Jan 2010, LE Mar 2010 Dx 12/2009, DCIS, 2cm, Stage 0, Grade 1, 0/7 nodes, ER+/PR+
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Nov 19, 2010 11:42AM bellapazza wrote:

Sorry, it's been a while since I've visited.  Appreciate the responses.  I am more depressed, but I think it is due to a number of situations including this.  Just saw my psychiatrist today as I have been heading a bit downhill.  We are going to experiment with exercise, a light box and a few other things.  Don't want to rock the boat or add a variable.

I also thank my lucky stars that my Oncotype eliminated me from chemo.  I don't think I would have made it through chemo.  Strange is that I have this perverse thought however that even though all docs, etc., reading on this, shows a very positive outcome, I think, I SHOULD be blasted with chemo "just in case."

I know this is illogical, but since all of this is so "raw" I'm riding the rollercoaster of emotions.

Again, all repsponses are greatly appreciated.  And yup, if your mind isn't up to snuff, it is so difficult to deal with all of this.  Any other illness.

<3 Bella

Tamoxifen 9/26/10, Oncotype 10 Dx 7/13/2010, IDC, 2cm, Stage II, Grade 2, 0/3 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Nov 19, 2010 11:56AM 3monstmama wrote:

I think you would have made it through chemo just fine.  We are stronger than we think.... 

I think it is not at all uncommon when we are diagnoised to be scared of reoccurance and to want any and all meds just to be sure.  But eventually, when things settle, I think most of us find we are comfortable with the treatment we have received.

What does your oncologist say when you ask him/her about chemo?  And how is your tamoxifen doing? 

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

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