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18th September 2014

Maureen Harrington

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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.

“When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I wasn’t instantly depressed. Even after my surgery, I wasn’t too bad emotionally. I’ve had operations before so had an idea of how I’d feel afterwards.
It wasn’t until a few months later, that the depression hit me.

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.

Knowing how I was feeling wasn’t right, I went to my doctors. He gave me tablets, which were brilliant but addictive. So after two weeks, we decided that I should stop taking them.

I then took another medication for a month, but it made me worse. I came off that and then rang the mental health charity, Mind. I spoke to a lady there who was very nice. I also had a psychiatric nurse come out to chat to me. But I realised I had to take charge of the situation myself.

I did this in many ways. 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. Then I’ll try and eat some lunch, and afterwards I’ll go for a walk.’

I started going to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation’s 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.’ She helped me a lot.

I also went on a course to help people cope with depression. They taught you to make goals for yourself. They also showed you muscle relaxing techniques and breathing exercises, and about the benefits of walking.

I am also very fortunate to have a wonderful husband, who supported me through it all. 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.

I was ill for four months, but gradually I got better. I’m about 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 and, with the help from my husband, life is pretty much back to normal.

I wanted to share my story, focusing not on my lung cancer diagnosis, or treatment, but on what can happen afterwards. I want to try and help others who are suffering from depression after their lung cancer diagnosis by showing them you can come out the other side – the way the lady at the support group showed me.

Confide in your doctor and do what they tell you. The self-help group run by Mind may also help, as can people at your local Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation support group. They know better than anyone what is like to be diagnosed with lung cancer. Some of them may have gone through something similar, or are going through it right now. 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.