Coping with a breast cancer diagnosis

A diagnosis of cancer is often a person’s worst nightmare. It’s hard to stay positive when faced with such an ugly disease. After hearing “you have breast cancer,” many women leave the doctor’s office without having heard a single word past those initial four. If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed, it’s important to hold on to hope. Your attitude can make a big impact on how you approach the diagnosis.

Become informed on your disease

It’s important to remember that breast cancer has many faces. What may be true of your neighbour may not be true of you or your loved one. So before jumping to any conclusions, find out what the diagnosis means for you. If you are like many women who are scared into silence in the oncologist’s office, then write down your questions, and bring a loved one along for support.

The first step is to get a timeline of events surrounding the cancer. Further testing may first need to be done. Find out what stage of cancer you have and what the treatment options are. Breast surgery is usually first, along with a lymph node biopsy to determine if the cancer has spread. Sometimes, however, chemotherapy is done first to shrink the tumour. Make sure you understand your options. In early disease, you may be given the choice between a lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy alone. After surgery, will chemotherapy be offered? What are the side effects? What are the risks?

Once the tumour has been removed, you will likely find out if the cancer was hormone-sensitive or not. Find out what this means in terms of treatment options as well as survival rates. If you have a hereditary breast cancer, then make sure you understand the implications for future cancer risk going forward. Every breast cancer journey is unique, so focus on your outcome, not what happened to someone else.

Tell your family and friends

A diagnosis of breast cancer is life-changing for the patient but also for family members and close friends. While you might prefer to keep the diagnosis to yourself, having the support of family and friends can make a big difference.

Telling children

When possible, break the news to children with a spouse or loved one present to offer support. Use age-appropriate language, and remain as positive as you can. Speak openly and simply, and ask them if they have any questions. Be sure to remain open about the course of treatment, what they can expect and changes that might occur. If you are open with them, then they may be less scared or worried throughout the process. Reassure them that you love them no matter how tired or weak you are during treatment. Encourage them to continue with their regular activities.

Telling friends

When telling friends, some people prefer to do it personally, while others prefer to do it all at once, sometimes even in an email. If you prefer to be left alone and need some space with your family, then mention it in the email to avoid unwanted phone calls and drop-ins. Do what is best for you and your family; the friends who matter will be there no matter what. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Many of your friends will be thrilled to help watch your children, cook meals when you are too tired to do it or even sit through various treatments with you.

Build your community

While some women prefer to discuss their cancer only with immediate family or loved ones, others feel empowered with an entire army of people behind them. You may wish to join a support group, or you may not. Support groups will allow you to speak with other breast cancer survivors to gain insight and hope. What is important is that your community, however big or small, is supportive. Get rid of the negativity in your life, and foster the positive. Remember, you are not in this alone.

Keep your mental health in check

Emotions are a normal part of the process when a person is dealing with cancer. However, if you are concerned about your grief or loss of hope, then always speak with your physician. Happiness and a positive outlook are important. Once treatment has ended, many people assume life will go back to normal and are then troubled by the fact that their worries don’t go away. Side effects from the chemotherapy and cancer medication are common and sometimes permanent, causing added stress. Remember to share how you feel with loved ones or physicians, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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