If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, you’ve probably felt an array of emotions ranging from scared and anxious to overwhelmed and confused. It’s completely normal and understandable to feel like your world is crumbling around you, but just because you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer doesn’t mean you’re in a hopeless situation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, women had much higher rates of getting breast cancer than dying from breast cancer. Additionally, 90% of female breast cancer patients who were diagnosed from 2012 to 2018 had not died from their cancer five years later (regular screenings can also help with early detection and increase the survival rate).
But while there is a larger chance of surviving breast cancer, especially the earlier it’s caught, it’s no secret that living with that kind of diagnosis takes a toll of its own. That’s why it’s more crucial than ever to develop coping strategies to help make this stressful time easier. The Mayo Clinic suggests activities such as keeping a journal to help organize your thoughts or practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or aromatherapy. But it’s important to remember that because each person and each diagnosis is different, finding the right strategy for you makes all the difference. Below, read some of our suggestions for coping with a breast cancer diagnosis.
One of the reasons, the word “cancer” is so scary is because a lot of people don’t much about it. And why would they? Some people prefer to live by the motto “ignorance is bliss,” but when it comes to your health and diagnosis, having all the information can actually feel empowering. To help obtain as much information about your diagnosis as possible, write down your questions and concerns beforehand and bring them with you to your doctor’s visit. You can ask questions such as what are the side effects of treatment, what treatment options are available, and what you can expect during the treatment process. There are also online forums comprised of cancer patients and survivors that can help shed light on life post-diagnosis.
Find the support you need
Online forums can also be a great source of support and community. Beyond that, family support is also crucial during this time. “Having family support and knowing that there are things you can do to help yourself is really important,” says Dr. Gretchen Kimmick, an oncologist at Duke Cancer Center Breast Clinic. “There are also programs that do cognitive-behavioral training on how to cope with stress and coping skills training that are very helpful as well. So if your initial support structure isn’t enough for you, there’s always extra support available.” “It is overwhelming. Usually, people haven’t faced something like cancer before, which is something they know can threaten people’s lives, and that’s a scary thing. But as patients go through the process and find a support system and a medical team, things settle down, and they become on a mission to treat it,” Dr. Kimmick adds.
Do things you enjoy
A breast cancer diagnosis essentially turns your life upside down, which is all the more reason to continue to do the things you love and that make you happy. Whether it’s gardening, painting, writing, or playing an instrument, don’t let a cancer diagnosis stop you from living your life. The Mayo Clinic even notes that participating in enjoyable activities may also help patients cope with breast cancer.
Understand your mind and body may change
After your breast cancer diagnosis and before you begin treatment is the best time to plan for changes so you’ll have an easier time coping later. The best way to do this is by asking your doctor what changes you should expect, which may include hair loss, increased anxiety, or fatigue. “After treatment, patients get exhausted and anxious,” says Dr. Kimmick. “There was a study that showed anxiety level was higher in breast cancer patients than other patients. That all makes it harder to concentrate on things. There is also a syndrome where patients have a more difficult time organizing and concentrating on things after chemotherapy. They call it they used to call it chemo-brain. Luckily, that’s rare and we’re doing a lot of things to decrease that happening like using chemotherapy less as a treatment.”
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can improve your energy level. The Mayo Clinic suggests choosing a healthy diet consisting of a variety of foods and getting adequate rest in order to help you manage the stress and fatigue of cancer and its treatment. Exercise may also help. Recent data suggest that people who maintain some physical exercise during treatment not only cope better but also may live longer. “The more active you can be, the better. The problem is finding something you’d like to do,” says Dr. Kimmick. One general exercise Dr. Kimmick recommends everyone do is some type of weight-bearing activity so that your bones stay in better shape and don’t have a decrease in bone density.
“We know exercise increases well-being overall, and it increases well-being and quality of life for women with breast cancer. There’s a lot of research now that exercise decreases the risk of breast cancer along with maintaining a good, well-balanced diet. I recommend the Mediterranean diet to my patients, which is basically rich in anything from the ground right so whole grains, vegetables, low-fat meat, and a lot of fish,” Dr.Kimmick adds.
No matter what you decide to do to cope, remember who you were pre-diagnosis. What helped you through tough times in the past is sure to do it again so whether it’s receiving support from friends and family or taking time to yourself, or even watching your favorite show, now’s the time to find solace in these activities while being open to trying new ones.