Prescription for Depression – Whether Cancer Patient or Caregiver


It hung around way too late in the day before I recognized this no-energy-no-interest-in-anything blahness. That’s when I got out my script pad and wrote a prescription for mild depression: Go take a hike. Near a body of water.

Part of the cure requires that the patient stop somewhere along the path to contemplate all there is to be grateful for: in my case, sound of water rushing over rocks, warmth of sunshine, the ability to move on my own two legs, family and friends to love, family and friends who love me.

Depression lifting already.

I’m not referring to serious clinical depression here, but rather the kind that pokes its ugly head up from time to time while you’re dealing with cancer or caregiving or widowhood. Or anything hard. The kind that hates walks in nature, and sun glinting on water, and birdsong.

Although I’m doing well in widowhood, and Hubby and I coped well during the cancer years, still … still there were those not-so-fun days. In no particular order, here are 8 tips that worked for us on the NSF days: 

  1. Getting outdoors. Nothing beats fresh air to gain a new perspective – front porch steps with a steaming mug of tea; perched on large boulder near tumbling creek; or better yet, perched on mountain top. It was this out-in-natureness that helped change our perspective from our smallness to God’s greatness.
  1. Movement. You may be exhausted, but physical activity can revive your spirit. (Check with your oncologist before embarking on an exercise program.) If you don’t have the time to get outdoors, take a couple of minutes, put on some groovy music and dance as if no one is watching. This is better than vacuuming, trust me – although vacuuming works.
  1. Creativity. Try your hand at water colors; lay out a garden; take up the guitar – and see if depression doesn’t dissolve. Ironically, my taking of photos at Shevlin Park this past week and mentally constructing this blog contributed to chasing away the grayness. I think it’s because creativity awakens imagination within us that spills over into energy.
  1. Gratitude. Every once in a while, usually on a walk, I’d suggest the gratitude game to Hubby who would groan exaggeratedly.

“Only ten things,” I’d say, and then I’d go first: “I’m grateful for you.” 

Tumble Creek in Shevlin Park (Photo: Marlys Johnson)
Tumble Creek in Shevlin Park (Photo: Marlys Johnson)

Hubby: “I’m grateful for you.”

Me: “No, you have to pick something different.”

Hubby: “OK. I’m grateful tomorrow’s Friday.”

Me: “I’m grateful for where we live and the life we have together.”

Hubby: “I’m grateful this game is almost over.”

Me: Deep sigh.

As a widow, I’m always ticking off mental lists and adding to my written list of one thousand things I’m grateful for (see Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts). #442: Full-ride scholarship to writers/speakers association conference in Cincinnati. #445: French doors wide open on this spring day. #480: This head cold that is a reminder of the good health I normally enjoy.

  1. Prayer. Prayer is simply communicating with God. Taking the time to listen, and then speaking what’s on our heart to One who hears, who loves deeply, who sees the big picture.
  1. Music. There’s a reason they play a certain style of music in grocery stores; in elevators; at professional ball games. There’s a reason they add music to movies and videos. Because music is powerful and can affect our moods and actions. Listen to music that sends your spirit soaring. (This means no “lost my boyfriend, lost my dog, lost my pick-up truck” songs when you’re depressed.)
  1. Connection. Hubby and I were part of a healthy cancer community that did a lot of activities together – hiking, snow-shoeing, cancer camp, the sharing of meals. As a widow, I value the hours of solitude for writing, but being around people has the ability to keep depression on the run. I’ve learned to purposefully schedule time with friends, or the days get away from me.
  1. Giving back. Connecting with people has a dual purpose in dispelling depression. Is there something I can do to bless someone who is struggling? Deliver a meal, watch their child, take them out for Chai tea with the intent of simply listening? When I look around to see where I can help meet a need, my own needs tend to fade.

There. Depression gone.

If you suffer from ongoing and deep depression, please talk with your physician. My intent with this blog is simply to share an anti-depressant prescription that almost always worked for Hubby and me during the cancer years, and now on this journey into widowhood.

 What about you? What usually works for you in gaining an upper hand over mild depression? 


Marlys was the care giver of her husband Gary who lived ten years after being diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer. After his diagnosis, together they founded a non-profit called Cancer Adventures, sharing their story with groups across the country. After Gary’s death in 2014, Marlys has continued to share the underlying theme of her and her husband’s story: How challenges are a part of life but you have choices. She has a passion for helping people navigate life’s challenges, having negotiated a few herself.

2 thoughts on “Prescription for Depression – Whether Cancer Patient or Caregiver

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  2. I am raising the two grand daughters my wife insisted we adopt even after her first tumor. I am living with the decisions she made while having chemo…from decisions about marital infidelity to her mismanagement of our family, and financial malfeasance. My overriding message to spouses of those with cancer is this…….The cancer machine will make it easy for your spouse to see you as the enemy. Be prepared to freeze assets, even to have your spouse declared legally incompetent as all of the purveyors of mind destroying chemicals give her a forum for believing that you caused her cancer.
    They may send her home infusion after infusion pumped up with the false hope of a long life yet to come.
    In the end, as she dies with only you by her side and sees that you were the only one trying to keep her grounded in reality, it. Will be too late. She may say things like,”If they let me die, sue them all .”. Ironically, chemo is all about keeping your spouse “alive” for two years following any malpractice so that legal action will be impossible.

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