Kent Parlee


Calgary AB

Mental Health and Men with Blood Cancer

I was feeling very depressed. The only way I could think to deal with it was hope my doctor would tell me I had cancer again. Cancer was familiar, “acceptable;” as a man, my mental health was not easy to talk about
Kent, CLL survivor, Calgary

After getting a stem cell transplant, and another week of chemo for the CLL I was diagnosed with at age 42 in 2006, one of the lingering effects was chemo induced cognitive impairment, sometimes referred to as “brain fog.” For me, it caused short-term memory issues, and as a result I began to get depressed. The worse the brain fog, the more depressed I became; it was a downward spiral.

In 2015, getting ready for my annual cancer check up at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, I was feeling very depressed. As a man, what I was feeling emotionally – my mental health – was not easy to talk about. It was scary and “unacceptable;” how could I be depressed given all the blessings in my life?

The lowest point was February of that year when I looked over the edge both figuratively and literally – and this is when I made the call to my family doctor to seek help.

I took a 17-week leave from work and sought help through the psychosocial department at Tom Banker Cancer Centre and through Wellspring Calgary where I took part in mindfulness classes and learned to cope with my cognitive impairment and depression.

It took me a long time to talk about my mental health challenges and then one of my doctors challenged me by asking if I would seek medical attention if I had broken my leg, and of course I said I would. She said what is the difference between a physical and a mental health need? Both are a normal part of being human and we should seek appropriate professional help.

For far too long men have been told they must be tough – not show or talk about their feelings, especially their mental health and well-being. That must end, and it must end now. Talking about mental health is a sign of strength, not weakness.