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Breast Cancer: Post Treatment: 6 Months Plus: Emotional Well Being


It is a myth to think that you can put cancer behind you with no emotional aftermath. The severity of emotional swings generally lessens over time, but can surface at unexpected times.

No matter how long ago you completed treatment, don't be surprised if you get anxious in the days before a cancer follow up appointment or test and have difficulty sleeping the night before or fear of recurrence pops up out of nowhere.

Use whatever helped you cope in the past to cope now.

Always have hope.

Try to keep a realistically optimistic outlook. We refer to it as a “Positive Attitude.”

Emotions to watch for

How To Cope With Emotions

  • Use whatever coping mechanisms you used to get you through treatment. They worked before. They are likely to work again.
  • Share your emotions. Don't keep them bottled up. Share them with family members and/or friends.
  • Make contact with another person who has gone through a similar breast cancer experience about the same time you did.
    • If you were treated for cancer 10 years ago, the experience was likely different than the experience of a person who was treated 5 years ago and from a person treated today.
    • You can find other long term survivors through a variety of sources including:
      • A national disease specific nonprofit organization, such as The American Cancer Society: offsite link or 800.ACS.2345 which connects women with breast cancer through the Reach To Recovery program.
      • The Cancer Support Community (formerly Gildas Club Worldwide and The Wellness Community). See: offsite link.
      • The ACOR long term survivors list connects people with similar cancers online. See: offsite link Click on "Mailing Lists." Then, under "Survivorship," click on "Long Term Survivors."
      • Your cancer center or possibly staff in your cancer doctor's office.
      • Young women: Check out the following organizations devoted to young people with cancer:
  • Writing and creative activities
    • Experience indicates that expressing emotions through writing or other creative activities helps women cope. 
    • There is no right or wrong way to write or to be creative. You don't need to show your writings or creations to anyone if you would prefer to keep them private.
    • If you haven't kept a journal before, we provide tips. Click here.
  • Consider joining a support group of women who are post treatment for about the same amount of time you are.
    • If you finished treatment five years ago, you won't likely find much support in a group of women who just completed treatment.
    • Many cancer centers have support groups for longer term survivors.
    • In addition to emotional support, groups are a great source of practical tips and information.
    • The length of time to stay in a group depends on the individual. You will know when it is time to stop. When you feel that way, give the group a few more sessions to be sure. For a list of breast cancer support groups, click here.
  • Consider joining or starting a self help group.
    • A self help group is a support group that is led by members of the group rather than a professional. To learn more, click here.
    • Keep in mind that the information you see or hear may not be accurate. Verify all information before acting on it.
  • Consider volunteering with a group of volunteers.
    • For instance, the American Cancer Society Reach To Recovery Program ( offsite link or 800.ACS.2345).
    • Also consider advocacy groups such as:
  • Go on line to a chat room.
    • If you join a chat room, keep in mind that information there may be wrong. Verify all information before acting on it.
  • Get a pet
    • If you don't have one, consider getting a pet. It doesn't have to be a cat or dog to improve quality of life or even help to extend it. If you do have a pet, learn how to keep from getting infected. See Pets 101
  • Turning to religion or spirituality can help.
    • Clergy men and women are good listeners, and are often trained at helping with emotional issues. As a general matter, you do not need to be a practitioner or a member of a religion to speak with a clergy person of that faith.
    • There are many paths to spirituality. The right path is the one that works for you - whether it's through religion, new age thinking or your individual belief.
  • Medication or Professional Help
    • If your emotions make living difficult or interfere with your daily routine, let your doctor know. Perhaps he or she can prescribe a medication that will help. Professional therapeutic help is also available. See: How To Choose A Mental Health Therapist.

If you get stuck in a down period, or become overwhelmed by other emotions, talk with your doctor or a therapist. How To Choose A Mental Health Therapist

NOTE: If you work, if you want to be considered to be "disabled" so you can obtain disability benefits under programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or a private policy, keep in mind that an emotional condition such as depression can be disabling as well as or in addition to a physical condition such as breast cancer. Be sure to tell your doctor about symptoms of depression and ask that he or she make a note in your file "just in case."

If you completed treatment less than five years ago

  • Do not be surprised if every cough, flu-like symptom, or pain that is similar to the pain you felt before treatment triggers the thought that your cancer may have returned.
  • The transition after treatment takes time. Dr. Julia Rowland, a noted psycho-oncologist, suggests that the time to a return of a feeling of normalcy is generally about the same as the time between the first diagnosis and end of treatment. If that period was 18 months, expect at least 18 months to recover.
  • Emotional swings will likely be less and less over time.
  • If there is a Cancer Support Community in your area, check it out. (The Community is a result of a merger of Gildas Club Worldwide and The Wellness Community). The Cancer Support Community offsite link provides a community of cancer survivors with a like experience.

If you completed treatment more than five years ago

  • 5-year survival rates are used by medical scientists as a simple measure that allows them to compare outcomes of different treatments. They are also used by doctors to discuss a patient's prognosis in general. 5-year survival has no medical significance as such. However, surviving 5 years after treatment is an encouraging landmark. The longer you survive, the better your chances of remaining cancer free.
  • If fear of recurrence comes back, keep in mind that if breast cancer does recur, the medical treatments and handling of side effects have evolved since you had your treatment. You survived it once. You can do it again. (Also keep in mind that fear is only a thought. Thoughts can be changed).
  • Do not be surprised if other emotions unexpectedly surface periodically.

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