Advice from Rob: What NOT to do when you're depressed, with cancer

September 24, 2014 | by rdarakjian

 

cancer survivor Rob Darakjian Rob Darakjian, a former leukemia patient, shares tips on how to overcome anxiety and depression while being treated for cancer.

 

Rob Darakjian was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at just 19 years old. He began chemotherapy and was in and out of the hospital for four months. After his fourth round of treatment, he received a bone marrow transplantation from an anonymous donor. Today, he's cancer free.

Darakjian's story has a happy ending, but getting there was a tremendous struggle. He suffered from severe depression and anxiety, which prevented him from enjoying any type of activity or experiencing any type of pleasure. Cancer made him feel hopeless, and he found it hard to get out of bed, often spending his days and nights in his room, crying.

His experience isn’t unusual. One in four people with cancer suffer from clinical depression, but for adolescents and young adults with cancer, the isolation can feel especially overwhelming. 

With support from his family and medical professionals, Darakjian was able to overcome his battle with depression and anxiety. He's now a college student at the University of San Francisco studying philosophy and political science. Here, in the first of a series, he shares his secrets on surviving anxiety and depression while fighting cancer.

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What cancer patients should NOT to do when they're depressed:

1. Do NOT surf the Internet.

In fact, place your computer and all the wires associated with it in the drawer so you can’t see it. It's so tempting to start Googling ad infinitum, jumping from one page to the next searching for "the answer." However, you will most likely make yourself feel worse with thoughts like "Which one do I choose from? I can't do all these, I'm in a hospital! Oh, God I'm going to feel like this forever. " And on and on.

2. Do NOT keep your feelings to yourself.

It is very, very hard to get out of depression alone. If you're in the hospital ask to speak to a social worker, a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Notice I used the word "and" not "or." Even if it's uncomfortable, tell your parents how you're really feeling. Putting on a positive-happy front will only make you feel worse. If you're religious, turn to your faith and ask to see a faith counselor (priest, rabbi, imam, shaman, etc). The important thing is to seek help and lean on the people who love and care for you. The sooner you do, the sooner you'll start feeling better.

3. Do NOT lie in bed all day.

Lying in bed and ruminating on how absolutely miserable you're feeling is all you're going to want to do. If you're in the hospital, walk around the ward, explore the floors or ask to exercise in the gym until you feel exhausted. If you're at home, try to do the same. Get up, and by doing so you're on the road to feeling better. Seriously, set yourself little goals and then achieve them. I congratulated myself when I was able to eat a meal, and especially if I made it through another day. The more productive your goal is, the better (e.g., writing a letter to a loved one or friend is better than finishing a TV show).

Next: What you SHOULD do when you're depressed, with cancer.

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If you're a cancer patient at City of Hope and experiencing depression symptoms that make it hard to go on or having suicidal thoughts, call your social worker or the City of Hope triage nurse, or visit your local ER. Don't suffer alone.

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