There are several important things to keep in mind as you and your loved ones begin a treatment journey after a cancer diagnosis. First, breast cancer is a very serious, but treatable disease. Ongoing efforts of researchers throughout the world have led to better diagnostic procedures, early detection, effective treatments with fewer side-effects, and better quality of life for survivors.
Second, it’s important to remember that breast cancer not only affects the person who is diagnosed, but also her family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.
Third, everyone responds to stress differently. Just because a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, it does not mean she is destined to become clinically depressed or anxious. However, my experience has taught me that it is common for cancer patients to become anxious and depressed to some extent. This is normal. The key is recognizing your distress and seeking support from your medical team, family, friends and mental health professionals.
When a woman is first diagnosed with breast cancer she might experience a variety of normal emotional reactions. After the initial shock, common concerns can include:
- fear of dying
- distress about the impact of diagnosis and treatment on children, spouse and family
- how the disease will affect your role at home, at work and in the community
- what treatment(s) will be needed (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy)
- how treatment might affect you physically (body image, hair loss, mastectomy, fatigue, nausea, vomiting)
- how treatment might affect you emotionally (anxiety, depression, panic, grief).
During the past 20 years I’ve had the privilege of working with a wide range of oncology patients and their family members at Baptist Cancer Institute/Hill Breast Center. I have encouraged them to focus on 10 basic tips for coping with cancer:
- 1. stick with proper nutrition
- 2. get adequate rest/sleep
- 3. continue physical activity/exercise as approved by their physician
- 4. find work and leisure activities to keep their mind and body active (and not focused solely on cancer)
- 5. gather information regarding the diagnosis and treatment
- 6. use medication if needed for pain, anxiety, depression or sleep
- 7. proactively seek psychological counseling
- 8. establish life goals and make plans
- 9. make daily positive affirmations and have faith in yourself, your doctors/treatments and your family
- 10. protect yourself by engaging in healthy behaviors (nutrition, exercise, regular medical visits, taking your medications) and avoiding unhealthy behaviors (smoking, alcohol use, recreational drug use).
Again, it is very important for women with breast cancer to address their emotional adjustment – sometimes this is more challenging than the physical manifestations of cancer and its treatment. Please talk to your nurse or physician about any concerns (medical or psychological) and don’t be afraid to ask questions or report problems.
Seeking mental health support services may help you minimize emotional distress and help keep your life in good balance through a difficult and demanding time.