Anxiety and Depression after Breast Cancer


anxiety and depression after a breast cancer diagnosis,

The After period of FBC (f-bomb breast cancer for new readers) presents its own unique set of challenges. The anxiety and depression that sneaked in AFTER my breast cancer treatment was a real shocker. Once I was done with treatment, I thought I was done. However, yet again, FBC laughed right in my face!

The fantastic organization, Living Beyond Breast Cancer recently addressed anxiety and depression issues in a webinar (have you ever done a webinar? They are so great!) with psychiatrist Ruth H. Steinman.

Dr. Steinman assured us that although conflicting emotions can be confusing to you and those around you, anxiety and depression after breast cancer is absolutely normal and these difficult-to-hold emotions usually lessen over time.

Here’s an interesting (and sometimes confusing) thing about anxiety and/or depression after FBC treatment: they tend to occur at various frequencies and levels of intensity.  These emotions can be suddenly re-experienced with “trigger events” such as anniversary dates, birthdays, holidays, etc.

I had a trigger event just last week when a young woman I knew died after a very sudden FBC recurrence. The last time I saw her in New York (about a year ago) she was going to have her radiation tattoos removed. Last week, she died. This sent chills down my spine and turned on my anxiety button. What I know is that these emotions can pop up at any time!

In the webinar, Dr. Steinman described certain things that can provoke anxiety and depression:

  • Pain, fatigue, nausea
  • Body image
  • Inability to care for family
  • Financial instability
  • Tests/scans – waiting for results
  • Appointments with oncology team
  • Hearing of others recurrence or death
  • Feelings of pain or fatigue, or develop a cough

She described the prevalent symptoms of anxiety and depression:



  • Fear
  • On edge
  • Restless
  • Muscle tension
  • Easily fatigued
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Problem with focus during day

Ummmm, I have had most all of these. Geesh! How about you? It just reiterates the fact that FBC is still never far from my mind.  In fact, it lingers just below the surface.

Below are some practical tips (you know I love practical tips!) to help manage these feelings:

  • Pace life to avoid being overwhelmed. While this is rather challenging, actively focusing on this does help. Just yesterday, I literally stopped myself in my tracks, sat down in a chair and rebooted at a slower pace.
  • Set short term goals. I frequently break my to-do lists down to the hour. In other words, I’ll say to myself, “In the next hour, I’m going to do so-and-so.”  This helps me immensely!
  • Work on developing non-cancer identity. From the time I started writing the blog, I have been adamant about cancer being one – just one! – part of my life. It is so important to identify with many more things in your life – other than cancer.
  • Spirituality I find a great deal of my spirituality comes from nature. The mountains and the ocean are great sources of soulfulness and joy. When I am hiking or at the beach, I am joyfully reminded that I am part of something much, much bigger in the world.
  • Reinforce past adaptive strategies for coping under stress. In other words, ask yourself: What else has been difficult in your life and how did you handle?)
  • Support from family, community, health care providers. After my diagnosis and during treatment, I had the most amazing support system. It was truly incredible and I am still so grateful for the support. What I have found is that it’s ok – better than ok, actually – to lean on this support system even after treatment.
  • Writing. You know how I feel about writing. I write all the time. Much never even makes it to the blog. I especially like to write about gratitude and Silver Linings  – shocker.
  • Diet, Nutrition & Exercise are so so so important!  Not only do they reduce the risk of recurrence, but they also help balance feelings of anxiety and depression.
  • Complementary Therapies, such as meditation, energy work (Qi Gong, Reiki, etc. and relaxation techniques (breathing, muscle relaxation, guided imagery) continue to be hugely helpful when I’m feeling off-kilter.

If you have have prolonged feelings of anxiety or depression, please-please-please call your doctor. The Silver Lining is that there are ways to help balance and contend with these trying feelings.

Additionally, you may also call the American Psychological Oncology Society Helpline: 1-866-APOS 4 Help (1-866-276-7443)


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  1. Orysia says


    Dear Hollye,
    More than a year ago, (thanks to Slim Paley's blog mentioning you) I started reading your blog because it helped me deal with depression. But now, I will be reading — and re-reading — even closer because I have been diagnosed with the dreaded FBC! I am scared and deeply saddened but I know that your blog will help me through it. Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us and for all of your tips and advice on how to deal with this horrible #@#&#!!

    Could you do a post on how you mentally prepared yourself for surgery? I am terrified of that day and any advice on how to calm oneself would be so helpful.

    God Bless you. May you continue to inspire us for many years to come.

    • says


      Dear Orysia,
      So so so sorry to hear about your FBC diagnosis. FBC. FBC. FBC.
      Thank you so much for your note…and for reading the blog.
      And YES! I will absolutely do a post on preparing for surgery.
      For sure.
      Please stay in close touch and take good care.
      Also, please remember to B.R.E.A.T.H.E.

  2. says


    I think that the threat of recurrence of one's FBC lies in the subconscious just below the surface, dormant but readily triggered, for example by a friend's recurrence. After completing cancer surgery and treatment you become less occupied and that is when anxiety and/or depression can set in. You may stress over whether you have done enough to protect you from this insidious disease.
    Thank you for your very practical and workable tips to avoid anxiety and depression. I esp. find effective getting outdoors with nature breaks to regain perspective. I hope to follow your advice for setting short term goals, (even hourly ones), writing or keeping a journal, and using the coping skills that have been effective for me in the past.

  3. says


    Thank you for this post. It is so true. It takes a lot of work to keep the anxiety in check. I was surprised how much surfaced after treatment. I thought once chemo was over all would be back to normal but that was when it got really hard. My cancer rehab doc said it is kind of like being on a ship that is lost in a storm where you are working hard to stay afloat and battening down all the hatches and then suddenly you come to the shore. This is when your mind catches up to what you have been through and things get harder. I think women need to know that these times might be very tough and you may need all sorts of therapies to cope. I feel as though I have done it all. Thanks for the great practical tips. I definately feel most in control when I am eating well and exercising.

    I am very sorry about your friend. That is heart wrenching.

    Please take care,

    • says


      What a perfect description, Jennifer! I also feel best when eating well and exercising. It makes all of the difference for me. Thanks for your kind words! xx


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