Depression and Cancer

Depression is a common side effect of cancer. In this post, survivor Bonnie Annis shares her insights regarding popular game show host, Alex Trebek, during his battle with pancreatic cancer and depression.

Beloved Jeopardy game show host, Alex Trebek, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year. Public personalities are usually very private about their health struggles, so it was surprising to learn of Trebek’s diagnosis. By divulging details about his treatment and the progression of his disease on television, viewers were invited to enter into his experience.

In an interview with Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts, Mr. Trebek talked candidly about his diagnosis and also revealed his struggle with feelings of depression. Speaking to Ms. Roberts, he stated “I’ve had kidney stones, I’ve had ruptured discs, so I’m used to dealing with pain, but what I’m not used to dealing with is the surges that come on suddenly of deep, deep sadness — and it brings tears to my eyes.”

During the interview, Trebek also spoke about his battle with disease-related depression as he discussed chemotherapy treatment and the effects he experienced. As he spoke with Ms. Roberts, he said, “Chemo affects people in different ways and people have to understand that and there’s nothing wrong with saying, hey, I’m really depressed today and I have no idea why. Why am I crying today?”

Depression is one of the most common side effects of cancer and may begin anytime during or after treatment. No one knows exactly why depression is so prevalent in the lives of those with cancer, but it is thought that feelings of deep sadness may stem from rapid changes brought about during or after a cancer diagnosis.

Feelings of sadness are normal and affect everyone to some degree. These feelings can occur at different times and for different reasons, but when feelings of sadness won’t go away, they may indicate the beginning stages of depression. states in one article that depression is more than just feeling down in the dumps or sad for a few days. Feelings of depression don't go away and can interfere with your everyday life. The site also ntoes that more than 20 million people in the United States deal with depression each year.

For a person diagnosed with cancer, life can become a very stressful time. Many triggers may contribute to feelings of depression. Some of those triggers include fear and uncertainty related to the future. Another trigger for depression may be caused by medications used to fight cancer, such as chemotherapy and antihormone drugs. Societal pressures may also add to feelings of depression as the person with cancer tries to meet the expectations of friends and family.

Feelings of depression are very different from general feelings of sadness. It’s important to recognize the symptoms which may include:

  • An overwhelming sense of sadness that will not go away
  • A loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • An inability to sleep or sleep soundly
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Changes in weight
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression is a serious matter and should be addressed quickly. A medical professional should be consulted. There are many treatments for depression and they vary according to the severity of each case. Some forms of therapy include professional counseling or psychotherapy. Other forms of treatment include medications or a combination of other therapies.

Depression, if left untreated, can develop into thoughts of suicide. These types of thoughts should never be ignored. If you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Alex Trebek has stated he intends to continue working on the television show, Jeopardy, as long as he is able. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and we wish him continued success in his fight against pancreatic cancer.