Maureen Harrington

Coming out the other side

Psychological problems can affect people with lung cancer weeks, months and years after treatment has finished. Here, Maureen Harrington, who was treated for lung cancer in December 2013, talks openly about her battle with depression and how she overcame it.

Were you affected by depression immediately after your surgery?

No, I wasn’t too bad emotionally. I’ve had operations before, so I sort of knew how I would be after this operation. This depression didn’t come on until the February.

How did it affect you?

It was like a monster. I couldn’t eat, I felt sick all the time, I had knots in my stomach. If I did manage to eat anything, I was putting my fingers down my throat to fetch it back up. I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. I felt so ill, and I don’t know what brought it on.

Did you have family and friends to support you?

I did. I had a wonderful husband to support me, and everything I did to get over this, I did for him. I was lucky to have him; otherwise I would have just gone to sleep and never woke up again.

Did you receive any professional support?

Yes, I went to my doctor. He gave me tablets, which were brilliant but addictive. So after two weeks, me and the doctor decided that I would stop taking them. I then took another medication for a month, but it made me worse. I came off that and then rang Mind. I spoke to a lady there who was very nice. I also had a psychiatric nurse come out to chat to me. But mainly I realised I had to fight this myself.

How did you do this?

I made myself plans for each day. I’d tell myself, ‘Right, I’m going to have a shower and then I’m going to do a bit of ironing. And then I’m going to try and eat some lunch, and then I’m going to go for a walk.’ I was ill for four months, but gradually I got better.

I also went on a course run by Mind to help people cope with depression. At that stage I was feeling better, but it was interesting that they taught you to make goals for yourself. They also showed you muscle relaxing techniques and breathing exercises, and told you about the benefits of walking.

Did anything else help you during this difficult time?

I go to the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation support group at Heartlands hospital in Birmingham. There, I got chatting to a lady and told her, ‘It’s been a real fight for me to get here today.’ She said she’d been like that. So I used to look at her and think, ‘I’ll come out the other side of this, just like she has.’ So she helped me a lot.

How do you feel at the moment?

I’m 95% back to how I was before my operation. I’ve still got bits of pain and things, but I go walking every day for about an hour. I’m doing my own housework, with help from my husband. We’re going out for lunch occasionally. My life’s back to normal, really.

What would you say to someone who is currently feeling depressed?

That you can get over it. You’ve got to fight. You’ve got to do what your doctor tells you. The self-help group run by Mind may also help. And people at your local Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation support group may be going through something similar. Just take all the help you can get off other people and you will get out the other side.

How to get psychological support

  • Speak to your lung cancer clinical nurse specialist or another health professional caring for you about what support is available in your area.
  • Download our Coping with a lung cancer diagnosis from www.roycastle.org/factsheets, or call 0333 323 7200 to speak to us about other helpful information we can provide you with.
  • Contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or visit www.mind.org.uk
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