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Cancer Free & Depressed?

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My father has turned a new leaf the past few years and has become a very loving and devoted Christian. He recently had a radical nephrectomy because of kidney cancer (renal carcinoma). During the awful symptoms and trials of the actual cancer and numerous trips to the hospital, he was amazingly positive and strong. After the surgery (He is now cancer-free!) he has been making suicidal statements (which he has NEVER done before to the best of my knowledge) and his past uncontrollable anger has resurfaced 10-fold.

He is uninterested in seeing a therapist as he is an old-fashioned “suck it up and rub some dirt in it” kind of man. Is it possible surgery can cause depression? It was a major surgery with weeks of recovery. We are a low-income family and he hates his job and has other psychosocial stressors, but has never been suicidal despite other major things he has been through in the past (father passing, cadaver bone implant, etc). He has a history of anger and likes to drink, but quit smoking cold-turkey a week or so before the surgery and seemed very in control and at peace.

I want him to feel better but there is little I can do other than ask a therapist because he won’t talk to one himself. Is it possible this surgery caused this depression? And is there another therapeutic option we can take besides therapy? Thanks.

Cancer Free & Depressed?

Answered by on -


The surgery, or perhaps the aftereffects of the surgery, might have served as the catalyst for his suicidal statements. Post-surgery depression is a relatively common phenomenon.

The physical aspects of recovering from a major surgery can be quite daunting. He was likely bedridden, at least temporarily, which can cause feelings of isolation and boredom. He might have taken medicine, during or after the surgery, which could have impacted his mood. Pain medication, for instance, affects hormone production and can lead to depression.

He could be worried about his own mortality. Having had cancer and having to undergo major surgery, make the prospect of death more real. Intellectually, we all know that we are going to die, but we live mostly in denial of that inevitability. It’s something that most people would rather not think about.

Research suggests that post-surgery depression often subsides within six months. Perhaps that will be the case for your father, however; suicidal ideation should never be taken lightly. It’s also true that you can’t force someone into treatment unless they pose an imminent danger to themselves or to others.

Your father’s attitude about talk therapy is unfortunately not uncommon; however, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that it is one of, if not the most effective treatments for depression. Therapy could significantly expedite his overcoming depression.

Perhaps he would be open to reading self-help books. He might like Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning or Life after Life by Raymond Moody. Certainly, there are many other good books that are accessible at your local library.

Other ideas include encouraging him to utilize social support to prevent isolation. He may also be interested in joining a religious organization or community group. Volunteering could be a great way to keep his mind occupied. Serving others often gives meaning to our own lives.

You can try the aforementioned suggestions but be prepared for the possibility that he might not take your advice or anyone else’s. Ultimately he, and he alone, will have to decide how to move forward.

Suicidal ideation is always a serious matter. Never hesitate to contact the authorities or a mental health crisis team in the event of an emergency.

Finally, you should report your concerns to his physician and or treatment team. Privacy laws mandate that they can’t share his personal information with you but there are no laws that prevent you from sharing your concerns with them. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

Cancer Free & Depressed?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Social Work and Forensics with extensive experience in the field of mental health. She works in private practice with adults, adolescents and families. Kristina has worked in a large array of settings including community mental health, college counseling and university research centers.

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2018). Cancer Free & Depressed?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018 (Originally: 31 Jul 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.