Feeling Depressed AFTER Surgery? You are Not Alone

On August 1st, I went into the hospital for a breast lumpectomy. I checked in at 10 a.m. and was home in bed by 7p.m.

In the week leading up to surgery and in the week afterward, while I waited for the pathology reports that would tell me the results of the lumpectomy, I was pretty upbeat. I felt that I was prepared to deal with whatever the test results revealed, I felt we had discovered the atypical cells early and that if pre-cancer or cancer cells were found, I would deal with whatever next steps were required. I felt brave and ready for the battle.

A week later I received the pathology report: no pre-cancer or cancer cells, just more of the atypical cells. Next, I'll meet with an oncologist in September and decide what to do next.

This is pretty good news. And on the day that I received the report I was understandably happy and relieved!

What was very unexpected was my reaction the following week...I felt depressed. I had all the classic symptoms:

  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • lack of desire to do anything other than stay in bed
  • unexplained sadness

I didn't want to tell anyone how I was feeling because I was afraid that it would sound selfish or unreasonable, given the good news I'd just received. And I didn't understand what I was feeling...it didn't make sense, so I kept quiet and lived with it.

This morning, as I sat at my desk with CNN on in the background, I heard a commentator mention post-surgical depression, so I googled it and discovered that what I'd been experiencing since my surgery was actually quite common.

And it makes perfect sense to me...before my surgery, I had invest a great deal of energy into preparing myself for the surgery and whatever outcome I faced. I maintained an upbeat attitude, took good care of my health, and had the love and help of family and friends to support me.

After the surgery, especially after the pathology report, even though I received pretty good news, I felt like a deflated tire. All the energy I expended keeping my spirits up now left me and I felt flat. I felt simultaneously that life was back to the same old problems and that I didn't have the energy to deal with them.

How am I doing now? I'm taking it day by day. Going for walks with my dogs in the beautiful Colorado woods is a help. Eating healthy, mostly vegetable based meals strengthens my body. If these feelings persist, I'll speak with my primary care physician and get his recommendations. I have lived with depression off and on for most of my life, so I understand that it can be a challenge.

The biggest relief has been putting a name to this melancholy and understanding that what I'm feeling is quite common.

As with any form of depression, if you are hurting, please get help...speak with your primary care doctor, call a mental health help line, reach out to a friend. As I keep preaching...you are your own best health advocate, but you don't have to be alone! There are many resources out there to help you...get help!


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