Dealing With Liver Cancer Depression and Stigma

Dealing With Liver Cancer Depression and Stigma

Liver Cancer: Stigma and Depression

Cancers are as unique as the people they invade. From breast and prostate to brain and pancreas, so many cancers carry their own individual risks, treatments, and perceptions triggered in the minds of others.

They bring a full arsenal to assault your body. The disease, as well as the treatments, will confront and weaken your physical health, but it will not end there.

When cancer assaults your body, it assaults your mind as well. The stress, the fear, and the frustration all build to distort your normal state of wellbeing.

Even if you were functioning at a high level before cancer, it will be a struggle to maintain that state after your diagnosis.

Though this is true for all cancers, liver cancer carries particular problems based on the perceptions of others. It is true that liver cancer is highly related to use of alcohol, but so are some other cancers.

With this relationship, people may think using alcohol is the only cause of liver cancer. People may unfairly blame you for developing the condition.

Not all liver cancers are caused by alcohol, though, and the misinformation places an unnecessary burden on you with your liver cancer diagnosis. Even if you do have a history of heavy drinking, you did not bring the condition on yourself.

Formation of the Stigma

When others place blame on you, it builds a stigma. A stigma is a belief held by an individual or a group that is false but readily believed.

Someone who stigmatizes a person with liver cancer might say, “He must have been a drinker. It is his fault he has liver cancer.” It is clear to see this is insensitive, but it there is an excellent chance that it is incorrect as well.

Formation of Depression

The stigma of liver cancer can lie heavily on the individual. Over time, the stigma combines with the stress, fear, and frustration.

Given the right circumstances, this mixture will cause depression to develop. All people with a cancer diagnosis are at increased risk of developing depression, but people with highly stigmatized forms of cancer like lung and liver cancer will likely experience the mood disorder at higher levels.

A depressive episode is a mental health condition that often is confused for sadness because of the amount of overlap between the two. Depression will occur more days than not for a two-week period, with symptoms like:

  • Low mood or higher irritability
  • Sleep changes
  • Changes in appetite with weight loss
  • Lower motivation and energy levels
  • Diminished concentration
  • High amounts of guilt
  • Thoughts of death

Sadness is a normal and expected aspect of life. Depression is a common but abnormal series of symptoms.

If you or a loved one meets some or all of the symptoms above, depression may be the culprit. If thoughts of death or suicidal wishes are present, seek treatment immediately.

Battling Back

In preparing your counterstrike against the stigma and depression related to your liver cancer, you will do well to target each separately to reap the best results.

Targeting Stigma

When preparing to reduce or eliminate the impact of the stigma, you must gain the most up-to-date education regarding your condition. The only weapon against misinformation is accurate information. Having this will allow you to retort with the truth when someone attempts to spread untruths regarding your condition.

Armed with the best information, you can choose an active or reactive approach.

In the reactive, you wait until someone presents you with obviously inaccurate data regarding your condition. Here, you would listen to their stance and provide a response based on fact and delivered in a calm, assertive way.

The active/preventative approach will work to offer an explanation of your condition at the onset. This method is preferred in many situations because it does not allow for the stigma to develop in your closest supports.

Targeting Depression

Even the best defense and offense against stigma cannot abolish all depression from encroaching in your life. With effort, you can minimize its influence by:

  • Experiencing the grief. Regardless of the severity of your diagnosis, you will experience the five stages of grief: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. Not everyone will complete these steps in order, and some will need several attempts to finish some aspects. These stages will come naturally, so the best you can do is spend time thinking about your situation and where you fall within the process.
  • Surrounding yourself with supports. Spending too much time focusing on depression, cancer, and loss will make you feel worse. To avoid this magnetic pull, commit extra energy towards having fun with the people you love.
  • Seeking professional treatment. Depression is a strong presence in your life, and it often needs professional intervention to be treated appropriately. A mental health therapist can boost your social interactions and help guide you through the process of grief in a more efficient manner while watching for problematic areas.

Liver cancer can exert its power and presence on your mental health, as well as your physical health. Let your doctors manage the medical side, while you do your best to battle against the stigma and depression.

By grieving, rallying your supports, and utilizing mental health professionals, you will find yourself healthier and happier.

Eric PattersonEric Patterson

Eric Patterson, LPC is a professional counselor in western Pennsylvania working for the last 10 years to help children, teens and adults achieve their goals and live happier lives. Read more about Eric and his writing at

Aug 23, 2016
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