When cancer isn't the only deadly risk: Battling depression post-treatment

Breast cancer support groups help survivors, like Ohio residents Christine Reaser, Danielle Grady and Pam Boesch, members of Kindred Spirits.

(CNN)I discovered I had breast cancer last year after a routine mammogram. I was 50 years old.

It took about a month of biopsies, more mammograms, MRIs, ultrasounds and genetic testing in my suburban Chicago hospital before I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. I then had a unilateral mastectomy, followed months later by reconstructive surgery.
I was lucky that my type of cancer responds well to hormone therapy, with no chemotherapy or radiation. Despite my excellent prognosis and low chance of recurrence, my breast cancer almost killed me.
    That's because although my medical team did an excellent job getting rid of the cancer, I was left to my own devices with the surprise bout of depression that took its place.
      Marta Segal Block struggled with depression after treatment.
      As frightened as I was during the initial call with my doctor, where she informed me that I had cancer, I had little time to think during the month-long flurry of tests and appointments.
      My local hospital's nurse navigator took my many phone calls, answered my questions and helped me make appointments for everything. She held my hand during a painful biopsy. I had a mastectomy and five months later, a breast reconstruction procedure.
      The symptoms I wasn't expecting started shortly after my breast reconstruction. Before my reconstruction procedure, I was told to plan on two weeks of recovery time. But six weeks later, I was still suffering from pain, swelling in my chest and face, and limited mobility in my shoulder.

        The onset of depression

        My medication was putting me in menopause, triggering hot flashes, weight gain and sleep disturbances. Insomnia-fueled Googling convinced me that I still had cancer. I cried all the time. I slowly began to realize that I was depressed.
        This was not my first bout of depression. I suffered from depression in my 20s and again after the traumatic birth of my first child. The difference was that I had prepared for postpartum depression. Every gynecological and pediatrician's visit included a depression screener.
        No one warned me that having breast cancer and a mastectomy could lead to depression — not my cancer doctors nor the nurse navigator who helped me through the maze of treatment. My depression made me feel guilty and isolated. I assumed that I had failed because I wasn't sufficiently grateful for my "lucky" stage I diagnosis.
        I learned later that post-breast cancer treatment depression is common.
        The lasting effects of a mastectomy, the post-surgical maintenance drugs and fear of recurrence can all lead to depression, according to Tasha Chasson, an oncology support counselor for Wellness House, a cancer support center located in Hinsdale, Illinois.
        Many women find themselves in "survival mode" during treatment and only have time to consider their emotions when treatment is over, Chasson said.
        Cancer patients can feel worse when they compare themselves to people with different diagnoses and prognoses, according to Kelley Kitley, a Chicago-based psychotherapist and women's mental health expert.

        Support is key

        Luckily, I had scheduled an appointment to meet with my general practitioner to discuss my sleep issues. Having known me for 15 years, s