The Dreaded 'D' Word

Why is everyone still reticent to talk about depression?

You would think that by now with all the commercials on TV hocking every existing depression medication that we would become desensitized. Maybe it’s the crazy list of side effects the commercials try to slip under the radar, which is impossible to ignore because it takes more time to list the side effects than it does to do the commercial. By then, I have to assume they have scared every one away. Those who have seen the commercials must walk away thinking you would have to be insane to take any depression drug.

Depression and cancer go hand in hand. Now I’ve said it. In my opinion, I do not believe you can have cancer and not be depressed and in need of medication. As those of us who received a cancer diagnosis before menopause can tell you, we got the double whammy. Menopause develops over a period of years. You gradually lose estrogen, but with cancer, if you are diagnosed as ER+, which means estrogen makes your tumors grow, all the estrogen in your body must be removed at once. I was given heavy doses of a drug called Lupron to shrivel my ovaries into oblivion. Now, you might ask what’s so bad about losing estrogen? And as long as you’re going to lose estrogen eventually through menopause what’s the big deal of losing it all at once?

Well I can tell you from my own experience, does the movie the "Exorcist" ring a bell? How about the movie "Psycho?" Need I say more?

What happens when estrogen is removed from a woman’s body?

— Estrogen is known as the feel good hormone. It regulates the neurotransmitters in the brain, which affect levels of serotonin and neuropenephrine. These affect your moods. Fiddling with these guys is dangerous business. Off levels of these will cause depression.

— Memory loss. I am always asking my doctor if I might have Alzheimer’s. He always says no, but sometimes it feels like I can’t remember something someone told me five minutes ago. It’s so frustrating.

—Dryness. Of the skin (causing wrinkles), the hair, and the vagina.

— Bone loss, hot flashes and fatigue.

When my ovaries were shut down, I felt horrible. I would switch from bouts of anger to bouts of depression and I don’t use the world lightly. I mean thoughts of hopelessness followed by suicide.
My ace in the whole is that I’m smart. I immediately went to a psychiatrist. I knew there was no need for a psychologist and a couch. Suicide is scary and I knew I needed meds. I came to find out that most cancer patients who are ER+, need antidepressants to cope. That made me feel a smidge better. It wasn’t just me. Estrogen loss can wreak havoc on a body.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been on antidepressants for 10 years. I loathe it. I’ve tried to go off and when I scale back I start feeling very depressed again. I will never get used to the idea that so much medication is swirling around in this body of mine. I have to let it go as I do the thought that I have incurable cancer. Sometimes the immensity and intensity of that thought is too much.

So please don’t wait to see your doctor if you are feeling down. The new mantra is quality of life. If you’re depressed, you cannot enjoy your family, your friends, your life. We only take this journey once and believe me, the ride is much better if you’re happy.

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Noreen Fraser is living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. She is co-founder of STAND UP TO CANCER and co-produced the TV show, which raised 100 million dollars for cancer research. Noreen went on to create the Noreen Fraser Foundation to raise money and awareness for women's cancer research. The 'Men for Women Now' program enlists men to ask the women they love to make appointments for their mammogram and pap smear. Noreen can be reached at