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Depression in Terminal Cancer

answered 10:10 AM EST, Sun October 02, 2011
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My father has pancreatic cancer and his prognosis is not good. My wife and I are his primary caregivers and he lives with us. Since his diagnosis 2 months ago he seems to have become quite depressed but he won’t admit to it and he gets quite irate when I bring up his talking to someone about his mental health.

He may not have much longer than a year left with us and I want to see him get as much life and joy as he can out of what time he has left but how can I cheer him up when doesn’t want to get any help, and when, to be honest, he has a very good reason to be feeling down?

Dr. Ari Hahn Says...

Dr. Ari Hahn A. Hahn

I'm sorry I haven't answered sooner. I was unable to write since I celebrate the Jewish New Year.

Of course your father is "down" but I would not called him "depressed." He needs to mourn. He is losing more than he ever imagined and that requires a mourning period that, during the first stages, looks like depression. While there is no way of knowing how much any particular person needs to mourn his own life (or life stye, since there is really no way of knowing how long he will actually live) he does need to be allowed to mourn in the way that he feels right, and for as long as he needs to. Letting that happen will actually make that period shorter.

He feels ill and "not right." He does not not want to hear anybody tell him that he has mental health issues on top of his other health issues. He does not need a mental health professional, rather a quality of life professional. When I work with people in this situation I find that often the family also needs to be involved in order to help the patient work through the issues, and because they are actually working through many of the same issues.

Focusing on quality of life can be looking at the loved one's life and appreciating all with good that the family has gained from having him around and what the loved one want to make sure is left before he goes on. Once those positive outlooks find a foothold, more positive experiences can be built up and appreciated.  

You are right about wanting him to have as much joy in life that he can. The positive attitude can increase his resilience and chances to live longer. But it can only be achieved by allowing him to start where his is mentally and find and build on the positive joyful moments that he can find now.

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Page last updated Oct 02, 2011

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