Senior Social Work Counselor at the
University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer
Center in Houston
PHOTO COUR TES Y OF WENDY GRIFFI TH
MY FATHER HAS CANCER AND SEEMS DEPRESSED.
HOW CAN I
Cancer can bring many life changes. Your
dad might be facing challenges in his work or
personal life as a result of his disease and its
treatment. Many people with cancer feel a deep
sense of loss. For caregivers, seeing a loved one
react to that sense of loss frequently causes
them to worry that their loved one is depressed.
In thinking about how your dad is doing, it
is important to realize that everyone feels sad
sometimes. Sadness is perfectly normal and
appropriate. There will likely be days when
your dad doesn’t feel up to his normal activities, even things as simple as going for a walk
or visiting with family. He may be having some
trouble eating or sleeping. That is not unusual
as a person manages cancer and its treatment.
It’s when those changes become pervasive—
lasting for weeks at a time—that it can become
cause for concern.
Try talking to your dad. Tell him you’ve
noticed he seems down, and open the door for
him to share his feelings with you when he’s
ready. Encourage him to discuss those feelings
with his health care team, too. His oncologist
will likely ask how he’s feeling on a regular
basis and will want to know what’s happening
both physically and emotionally. Sometimes
people can be reluctant to admit to their
doctors that they are having trouble with sleep,
feelings of isolation or frequent crying spells,
so encouragement from caregivers is helpful.
Your dad’s health care team can help him
get connected with locally available resources,
including counselors, support groups or,
if medication is warranted, psychiatrists.
He initially might feel overwhelmed at the
thought of taking on yet another appointment.
But this does not have to be a big commitment.
Even just a visit or two with a good counselor
can help him identify coping techniques.
Depression and cancer take a toll, both
emotionally and physically. The most important
thing you can give your dad is support. Ask him
what you can do to help and keep asking, even
if he seems cranky or irritable. Let him know
you’re there and you’re listening.
CANCER AND DEPRESSION // The American Cancer Society offers advice
on choosing a cancer counselor. cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/emotional-side-effects/understanding-psychosocial-support-services/
finding-a-counselor.html // Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
explains types of help that are available for cancer patients experiencing
depression. mskcc.org/blog/depression-can-be-dangerous-patients-help-available // The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
explains ho w to distinguish depression from normal sadness and lists strategies
for coping. mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/2013/10/depression-in-