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After getting a cancer diagnosis and beginning treatment, you likely expect to experience physical side effects and symptoms. But you may not be as well-prepared for how fast and furious mental health side effects tend to appear, too. “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek spoke honestly about the sadness he has experienced since his pancreatic cancer diagnosis and offered some words of wisdom for others who have felt the depression that so often accompanies cancer.
In an interview with Robin Roberts (also a cancer survivor) of “Good Morning America” last Wednesday, Trebek said his oncologist tells him he’s doing well, even though he doesn’t always feel it. Trebek first revealed his diagnosis in March and has been undergoing chemotherapy. He said he isn’t accustomed to dealing with the emotional aspect of his illness.
“I’ve had kidney stones; I’ve had ruptured discs, so I’m used to dealing with pain, but what I’m not used to dealing with are the surges that come on suddenly of deep, deep sadness, and it brings tears to my eyes,” Trebek said.
Trebek said his platelets, blood counts and weight are steady, and the cancer indicators are coming down. But he admitted that chemo “takes it out of” him and that he feels “so weak” all the time.
“I’ve discovered in this whole episode, ladies and gentlemen, that I’m a bit of a wuss. But I’m fighting through it,” he said.
Trebek urged others to accept that it’s OK to acknowledge those feelings.
“Chemo affects people in different ways, and people have to understand that,” Trebek said. “There’s nothing wrong with saying, hey, I’m really depressed today and I have no idea why. Why am I crying today?”
For himself, Trebek said he has been encouraged by all the support he’s received from fans and other cancer survivors, and just tries to “take it as it comes.” He said:
I go in [for chemo] and I sit down; I joke with the nurses. And I’m there for an hour and a half while they inject all of this stuff into me and then I go home and I have a good day, and then the next day, for no reason that I can fathom, it turns south on me. But that’s OK. You have to deal with it. What am I going to do? It is something that I’m afflicted with; we are dealing with it chemically and spiritually and those are positives. And hopefully everything is going to turn out well, and I’ll be back on the air with original programming come this September.
If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and also find yourself struggling with your mental health, you’re not alone – an estimated one in four people with cancer have clinical depression, while most others likely will have some effect to their mental health.
“Being diagnosed [with cancer] does not make someone mentally ill. But, in my experience, most cancer patients develop symptoms of anxiety and depression at some point during or after their treatment,” Dana Nolan, a licensed mental health counselor, told The Mighty. “While it is normal to experience mental health challenges, it is not necessary to simply suffer through it.”
For insight into coping with the mental impact of cancer, check out these stories written by others in the cancer community: