Hearing the words “You have breast cancer” (or any kind of cancer) can be emotionally destructive. You hear the words but your mind is overcome by a tidal wave of questions and feelings. Denial. Helplessness. What if’s? What now’s? Even “take charge” people can be thrown into shock and depression – their thoughts and lives brought to a screeching halt.
Here are some practical tips to help you take back control over your emotions and your life after your doctor has confirmed a breast cancer diagnosis. Start with the one important realization:
Cancer is survivable. Caught early, breast cancer patients have a 5-year 100% survival rate. Even women with Stage Four, where cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and other organs, have a 5-year survival rate of 20%. With that information, here is help on what to do NOW.
1. Talk to your family in a factual way about the diagnosis. Tell them what the doctor said, what your options are, and what to expect about the timing of treatment. If your doctor has discussed some of the treatment side effects – hair loss, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea – talk with your family about what you and they might expect.
2. Take an active role in decisions about your care. Ask your doctor(s) to explain medical terms you don’t understand. Gather all the information you can about the topic. Talk to other people you know who have had breast cancer. Maybe your doctor can even suggest some names. Learn from them what to expect. Choose a doctor or surgeon who specializes in breast cancer and a hospital that has a cancer center and conducts a high volume of the type of surgeries you will be undergoing. To reduce confusion and avoid tiring travel, look for a hospital where the physicians and treatment options (chemotherapy, radiation therapy) and your cancer doctors are located in the same place.
3. Turn to your family and friends for emotional and practical support. Make a list of the people in your life. Next to each name, determine how they can best help you. Are they a good listener who can provide emotional support? Or are they a “get-it-done” kind of person, who might be best helping with shopping, cleaning, childcare, cooking or trips to the doctor? Or are they a “tech guru” who knows how to search the Internet for solid information?
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many people want to help, they are just hesitant to ask.
“Following these suggestions can have positive short- and long-term results,” says McLeod Cancer Oncologist, Dr. Rajesh Bajaj. “Taking control of the process might reveal an inner strength you never realized existed. Cancer is something you can’t and shouldn’t fight alone. You may create new friendships or re-establish old ones as you build your network of help and helpers.”
Have a question? Ask a Cancer Specialist.
Sources: American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health (National Cancer Institute), Susan G. Komen For the Cure, SheKnows.com, Cancer Facts & Figures for 2013, EverydayHealth.com