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In Treatment For Breast Cancer: Emotional Well Being


Always keep the goal of the treatment in mind. It will make living through it easier.

The emotions that surface when side effects first appear tend to lessen and go away over time - even if the side effect continues. For instance, there is generally a major emotional let down for the first few days when hair starts to fall out. It generally eases as treatment proceeds.

Share your emotions. 

  • Emotions may run rampant during treatment. You may feel numb, confused, shocked, angry, depressed, scared, guilty, and a host of other emotions. Actually, you may experience several emotions at the same time. You may also experience the feeling of being on a roller coaster.
  • Being able to talk about your illness is key to your well-being.
  • At least share your emotions with the people closest to you.
    • When considering who to talk with, think about the same factors you used when you decided who to tell about your diagnosis and how much to tell each person. (For a reminder of tips about telling people about your diagnosis, see: Disclosure: Sharing With Friends, Family and Acquaintances
    • Look for positive people to talk with. Avoid upsetting discussions with people who have a negative attitude. You don't have to talk in depth with a person just because he or she wants you to.
    • Family and friends are members of your team. They want to help.
    • Keep in mind that people who love you, love you for who you are and what is inside of you, not for your physical appearance.
    • If you don't have people to support you, consider signing up as a patient with Chemo Angels ( offsite link)
    • Studies show that people who have multiple sources of support do better than those who are more isolated.
      • Look for support among people close to you. 
      • Make contact with a cancer buddy - someone who is going through what you are going through or who went through it recently.
        • Experience shows that there is nothing quite like speaking with another woman who is also dealing with breast cancer.  Women who have or did had breast cancer can provide practical advice based on their experience and also be a source of emotional support.
        • You can find such a woman through the American Cancer Society’s Reach To Recovery program. Call 800.ACS.2345. You can also locate such a woman through your oncologist or cancer center.
        • If there is no one nearby, you can make contact with people anywhere in the country over the internet or on the telephone. If you prefer, you can communicate by email or Instant Messaging instead of talking.
        • Some women report that not having eye to eye contact makes it easier to share their innermost thoughts and feelings.
      • Consider joining a breast cancer support group or a self help group of other people going through a similar experience. (Some people join such groups just for the helpful practical information they learn.)
        • Studies show that women with breast cancer who join support groups do better than those who don't.
        • Consider joining a support or self help group of other women with breast cancer. A support group is a group of people with a similar situation, led by a professional. A self help group is the same except members run the group.
        • In addition to emotional support, members learn practical information.
        • There are all kinds of groups, including groups of people who are in treatment.
        • Groups meet in person, on the telephone, and on line, so there is likely to be at least one available group that works for you. Be cautious about joining a group that is not monitored by a professional. Misinformation may go unchecked.
        • You can find a breast cancer support group through any of the following organizations:
        • There is likely not time now, but keep in mind that support is also available through retreats for women with breast cancer. For example, Breast Cancer Recovery sponsors retreats throughout the year for women at different breast cancer stages. While there is a fee, the foundation says that no woman is turned away for lack of money. See: offsite link

Do Whatever Helped You In The Past

  • Think about the techniques you used in the past to get you through emotional periods. If the technique worked before, it is likely to work again. A few examples may help trigger thoughts about what works for you:

    • Kristy irons naked.
    • Jamie cleans when she starts to feel overwhelmed by emotion.
    • Terri created a corner of her home that felt sacred. Such a space may only have a candle or some fresh flowers. She spent about 10 minutes a day being there - taking deep breaths, giving herself pep talks, and saying prayers.

Do What You Can To Relieve The Stress And Feel Good. For example:

  • Define your fears. If you define your fears specifically, you can come up with solutions so you don't feel so powerless and frightened by them.
  • Eat foods that are comfort food for you, even if they're not the healthiest. (Of course, don't make them your only food.)
  • Start doing things to make you feel in control or that help you feel centered. For instance, do a small project you can start and finish quickly.
  • Spoil yourself when you can. Maybe with a bubble bath. Maybe a movie. Maybe fresh flowers. Maybe planting something that will take time to grow in your garden.
  • Consider complementary therapies such as massage and Reiki. (Such treatments should also be in addition to, and not instead of Western medicine).
  • Practice techniques for coping with stress. For instance, relaxation techniques such as meditation.

What To Do If You Get Stuck In A Down Mode

  • There are a variety of alternatives to help when depression interferes with your daily life.
  • A good place to start is to talk with your doctor. He or she may prescribe anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications, or recommend that you speak with a mental health professional - or both.
  • With professional counseling, you do not have to manage alone. Counseling adds an additional person to help sort through your feelings.  Counseling can be done in person, on the telephone, or even on line. Professional therapists include social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. For information about choosing a mental health therapist, click here.
  • Professional help is likely covered by your health insurance. If not, or if you are uninsured, many therapists work on a sliding scale according to your means.
  • Also consider joining a support group or a mental health group. See above.

Think about getting a pet if you don't have one. 

  • Studies show that pets are good for emotional health and have been shown to increase longevity. 
  • The pet does not have to be a dog or a cat, and it doesn't have to be an attention requiring puppy or kitten.
  • You will need to learn how to care for your pet and to not get infected by your pet - as well as practical information such as how to travel together, whether to get pet insurance etc.. See Pets 101
  • If you have a landlord that prohibits pets, you may still be able to have one as an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

Look for humor on a daily basis.

  • Laughter helps.
  • Comedians find humor in just about everything. If you aren't seeing any, consider sources that make you laugh. For instance, watch current comedies or reruns on television. One or another if available 24/7.  

Consider seeking professional counseling if you're getting stuck in a down mode or feeling overwhelmed. 

It helps to know what to expect during a treatment, including potential side effects.

  • The doctor in charge of administering the treatment can tell you about the side effects that usually accompany your treatment. 
  • As you will see in Managing Your Medical Care, there are techniques for reducing the effect of each possible side effect.

When waiting for test results, there are time tested ideas that can help you get through the waiting period. For instance:

Do not be surprised if you have anticipatory stress before treatment which makes it difficult to work, pay attention to others, or even eat. There are proven techniques for dealing with stress.

If things seem bleak at any given point, keep in mind that there is no such thing as false hope. At least one person survives every illness. That person could just as easily be you as someone else

Toward the end of treatment:

  • Think about rewarding yourself (and your spouse/partner) when treatment ends. For instance, plan a trip away from home - or even two trips. If two trips, the first one should be a short trip just to get away and chill out while your body and mind absorb what you've been through. Then in a few months when you're feeling stronger, a longer trip, perhaps further away. (Make proper preparations before travel so assure your health isn't affected. The document in "To Learn More" shows you how to prepare and travel safely).
  • Consider creating a ritual to celebrate the end of treatment. You probably won't feel much better physically than you do as treatment nears the end, but don't let that stop you. Experience indicates that planning a ritual and looking forward to it will help get you through the end of treatment.
  • Make your first follow-up appointment as early as your doctor recommends. You are likely to experience depression from the withdrawal of the treatment family. Seeing your doctor again can help provide reassurance. (To learn more about medical care, see: In Treatment For Breast Cancer: Managing Your Medical Care.

After Surgery

  • The time after breast surgery is often a time to reestablish identity. Don't be surprised if you feel like withdrawing from your social life for a while.  Some women choose to stay private because they don't want to concern themselves with other people's reactions. They want to do their own adjusting before they cope with others.
  • On the other hand, other women seem to have a great need to discuss what they are learning about their illness, what they are going through physically, as well as the emotional impact of the disease.
  • Do whatever works for you.

Chemotherapy And Radiation

Experience indicates that the two keys to keeping an emotional balance and peace of mind during chemotherapy or radiation treatment is to live in the moment, and to keep informed about what is going on and what to expect on a day-to-day basis.

  • Understand what is happening during treatment.
  • Keep the goal in mind.
  • Live in the moment. When fear and/or anxiety show up, keep in mind that they are thoughts, and that you can change your thoughts.  
  • If you have questions, ask your oncologist.

Young Women

Consider checking out organizations devoted to young women with cancer. For instance:  

For additional information, see:

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