Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event and it affects not only your mental, physical and spiritual connection, but also the relationships with people close to you. You may feel barraged with medical terminology and treatment options that you are not familiar with or you may feel pressured to make decisions that you haven’t had the time to process or explore.
The “C” word is known to invoke many emotions and fears. Experiencing a roller coaster of emotions is a perfectly normal response when you are diagnosed with breast cancer, especially during the initial diagnosis stage. Common emotions that you may experience are as follows:
- Anxiety/out of control
It is important for you to know that there is no right or wrong way to deal with this situation. Each person has their own personal experiences, values, personality and temperament, which determines how they react to and deal with stress. Do not let stress drive your treatment decisions. By taking the time you need to process and understand your diagnosis, you will be able to better accept this situation and make the best decisions for yourself.
While your healthcare team is gathering important information about your diagnosis, you may feel like you have no control of the situation. Your normal routine is now filled with uncertainty and can be disrupted with doctor visits and a variety of treatments. You may feel overwhelmed with fear and worried about your future. Dealing with these feelings is not easy but you can get through this. You can help lower your stress levels by working through these emotions and staying focused on your physical and mental well-being. Try to focus on the things that you can control.
Start by Managing Things you can Control:
- Surround yourself with strong teams to help get you through the next steps:
- Multi-disciplinary healthcare team
- Supportive family and/or friends
- Support groups (church, national/local cancer groups, etc.)
- Professional counselor
- Educate yourself. Knowledge is power and by learning more about your diagnosis, you will be able to make well-informed decisions about your care.
- Keep in mind that everyone’s diagnosis is different, so when you do research, you want to gather information that is related to your diagnosis.
- Ask your doctor for copies of your tests to keep for your records.
- Utilize your physician(s) or nurse(s) as a good source of information about your diagnosis.
- If you are searching the web for general information, visit reliable sources such as .gov, .org, or .edu sites.
- Obtain booklets or brochures about your diagnosis and/or treatment options.
- Eat well-balanced meals
- Studies show that people who eat well-balanced meals and who are at a healthy body mass index (BMI) have improved outcomes by improving quality of life and reducing cancer recurrence.
- Talk to your doctor about nutrition recommendations on the following:
- Lean Proteins – typically, patients are encouraged to consume higher amounts of protein, which provide the building blocks of your cells. (eggs, fish, chicken, beans)
- Carbohydrates (whole grains, fiber, fruits, greens)
- Fats (avocados, nuts, olive oil, seeds, eggs, wild fish)
- See a dietitian, who can help personalize healthy meals for you.
- Water is essential to ensure the body functions properly. Get in the habit of drinking at least ten 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day, more if you have diarrhea. (Talk to your doctor if you have an underlying condition that restricts your fluid intake).
- Studies show that people who exercise and have a healthy BMI have fewer cancer recurrences and feel better on treatment.
- Exercising gives you more energy and can help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Talk to your doctor about recommendations or restrictions that you may have during your treatments.
- Changes in sleep habits may occur while you are undergoing treatment
- Things to do to sleep better at night
- Exercise during the day
- Limit the amount of time you nap during the day (1 hour or less). Try not to nap after 3:00 pm.
- Stick to a sleep routine
- Get up at the same time each day
- Create a relaxing winding-down routine before bedtime
- Go to bed at the same time at night
- Meditate, listen to calming music, aromatherapy or journal at night
- Don’t have your laptop or tv on in the bedroom
- Limit the amount of food and drink you consume to 2 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine after dinner
- Drink relaxing teas before bedtime such as chamomile or lavender
- If you are taking steroids during your treatment, talk to your doctor if it is affecting your sleeping patterns.
- Ask your physician about over-the-counter sleep supplements
- Speak to a professional if you continue to struggle. Some people require prescription sleep aids to help them sleep.
- Sometimes doing all of these interventions is not enough to alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety and your doctor may prescribe an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication.
- Some of these medications can also help reduce hot flashes brought on by breast cancer treatments.
- Get Support
- Trying to balance your healthcare regimen and family life can become very challenging, making it hard to cope during this difficult time. It is not uncommon to be affected both physically and emotionally.
- See a therapist or counselor
- Speaking with professionals can help validate your emotions and give you clarification by putting these feelings into perspective.
- Studies show that psychotherapy or “talk therapy” has proven value.
- Join a support group (local or national)
- There are a variety of support groups available in person, on-line or through social media that can help you work through your emotions while you go through treatment. Engage with others in Breast Advocate's community!
- Mentors that have been through this journey can provide a “safe haven” for you with valuable information and guidance and can connect you to resources in your community.
Once you have had time to process your diagnosis and learn more about your options, these emotions can actually help motivate you to take action and regain control of your situation. Talk to your medical professionals if you have questions or concerns about your emotional or mental well-being during cancer treatments.
Content provided by Dr Amy Lang | The START Center for Cancer Care.