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Content Overview

Newly Diagnosed With Breast Cancer: Emotional Well Being



The first feeling after hearing that you have breast cancer is generally denial: "This can't be right" "This can't be happening to me" "They must have confused my results with someone else's".  Denial can be good because it gives you a chance to adjust to the new reality. Still, don't let it go on so long that you don't seek the best doctors and treatment in a timely manner. 

After the initial reaction, emotions can come and go, often with ups and downs like a roller coaster. Emotions don't surface in any particular order. In fact, you may experience more than one feeling at the same time.

Although it may seem like it, the world has not ended. You are here today. Medical advances are being made on a daily basis. There is always at least one survivor. There is no reason why that person cannot be you.

To help with the emotions you are feeling and those you are likely to experience, consider the following:

  • Accept your emotions. Do not try to suppress them.
    • Allow the contradictions and complexities of being human.
    • Seek control where it is possible. 
    • Find acceptance where control cannot be found.
    • Do your best to live in the moment. Fearing tomorrow only ruins today.
  • Express your feelings 
    • Do not keep your emotions to yourself.
    • Tell your family and close friends what you are feeling. This is particularly important with respect to a spouse or partner. As you will see in our information about telling other people about your diagnosis, you do not have to tell everyone at once. Whether it is family, friends or co-workers, the news will provoke strong emotional reactions. Begin with people who will respond in a helpful way - perhaps a person who will simply listen without making a lot of suggestions or taking charge.
    • Talking is only one way to express emotions.
      • Writing in a private journal or on a blog helps a lot of women. (For information about keeping a journal, click here.)
      • So does art.
      • Express yourself in whatever way works for you.
  • Keep in mind that you do not have to go through this experience alone. In addition to the support of family, friends and co-workers, experience shows that there is nothing quite like speaking with another person who is going through the same thing that you are.
    • Consider looking for a cancer buddy - another woman with breast cancer. Only another woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer or who has been there really knows what you feel.  The woman doesn't have to be nearby. You can make contact on the telephone or over the internet. Look for some one with whom you feel comfortable, such as person of about the same age and/or lifestyle.
      • You can make contact through the American Cancer Society's Program: Reach To Recovery. Either go online ( offsite link) or call 800.ACS.2345.
      • You can also make connections through your specialist, a social worker or your national or local disease specific nonprofit organization.
    • This is a good time to start exploring a support group 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.
      • If there is no group in your area that works for you, you can get the same benefit from a group on the telephone or internet. If one isn't available nearby and you prefer people to people contact, consider starting your own.
      • You can find breast cancer support groups through such sources as the American Cancer Society,  offsite linkCancer Support Community  offsite link(formerly The Wellness Community and Gilda's Club Worldwide) and Cancer Care. offsite link
    • Young women should check out the following organizations:
    • There is likely not t/ offsite linkime 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
  • Work on having an attitude of realistic optimism. This is generally referred to as a positive attitude. Part of a positive attitude is the determination that you are going to do everything you can to survive and thrive the best you can. 
    • A positive attitude also understands that there is always a reason for hope.
    • No matter how positive you are, there will be down moments and down days. Do what you can to get past them - then move on.
    • It helps to stay positive if you look for humor wherever you can find it. 
    • Don't beat yourself up when you don't feel positive. 
    • Think about a mindset that works for you that provides an underpinning for moving forward. Your mindset will help determine the actions you do and do not take. For example:
      • Is this a battle you are entering into? If it is a battle, an effective general would understand that this is a major battle, with a life at stake. There's an "us". There's an enemy. You would use every asset you have - and figure out how to get those you don't have to throw into the battle.
      • Is this a business problem? If so, a CEO would identify the goal, consider what is necessary to reach the goal, think through what problems are foreseeable and take steps to reduce them, be prepared for unexpected problems etc.
      • Is this a personal challenge?
      • Are you the owner of an apartment building with the need to evict a tenant?
      • Rather than think you are fighting against an illness, is it preferable to think that you are fighting for yourself?
    • There will be time to start looking for a deeper meaning in this experience. The key right now is to get through each moment as well as you can.
    • For additional information about a positive attitude, including how to get it and how to keep it, click here.
  • With respect to helping to cope with emotions:
    • Keep in mind the following phrases have become cliches for good reason: "Take one day at a time" "Take an hour at a time" "Take a moment at a time." 
    • Use whatever techniques have helped you get through difficult periods in the past. Whatever got you through before is likely to work again.
    • Also use time tested techniques that help with different specific feelings. For information, see: 
  • During the inevitable waiting periods, keep tips in mind that have helped others cope. For example, keep busy.For other tips, click here.
  • If you get stuck in a down mode for more than two or three days or if your emotions begin to impact your daily life:
    • Talk with your doctor. He or she may prescribe anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications or offer other suggestions. .
    • Professional counseling is available. This is particularly important to keep in mind if you become so anxious and frightened that you become unable to go about your normal life. A consultation with a mental health professional will help reduce your anxiety enough that you can participate in the medical decision making process.
    • Professional counselors to consider are social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. A clergy person may also be helpful. For information about available therapists, click here
    • Counseling is usually done in person. If that is not possible, it can now be done on the telephone or even on line. 
    • For information about how to choose a mental health therapist, click here.
    • Your health insurance may pay for counseling. If your insurance doesn't pay for counseling, many therapists work on a sliding scale and charge according to your means.
  • Look for humor each day. To understand the importance of humor after a diagnosis and how to get it in your life, click here.
  • Think about getting a pet - yes, a pet. 
    • Pets are not a substitute for communicating with other people in a similar situation, support groups or therapists. However, they are good for emotional health and have been shown to increase longevity. The pet doesn't have to be a dog or a cat, and it doesn't have to be an attention requiring puppy or kitten.
    • If now isn't the time to get a pet, it may be a good time to start planning for when things calm down.
    • If you have a landlord who prohibits pets, you may be able to have one as an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
    • For advice about how to borrow a pet for the short term and/or live with a pet including how not to get any kind of infection from them, how to travel, whether to get pet insurance etc. please see: Pets 101.

Experience indicates that you will feel more confident and in control as you come to terms with your feelings, start to coordinate your support team, and start to learn about your treatment options.


  • It can be helpful to speak with a neutral, sympathetic and knowledgeable counselor during the first days after a diagnosis. Your doctor may have such a person to recommend. Or consider calling a hotline at an organization such as Cancer Care  offsite linkwhich has a call center staffed by oncology social workers that are knowledgeable in all types of cancer. Tel.: 800.813.4673  (Mon-Thursday from 9AM to 7PM ET and on Friday from 9AM to 5PM ET)
  • Give yourself time for your emotions to settle before making important decisions such as which treatment and the other aspects of your life affected by your diagnosis. There is generally time. For more information, see the article which applies to you: 
  • Keep in mind that spouses and significant others are likely also on an emotional roller coaster. While your needs come first, keep theirs in mind. If their needs become difficult, consider suggesting professional counseling, or at least a support group for spouses/significant others.
  • There is likely to be less stress if you follow a road map for dealing with the other aspects of life post diagnosis so you’re not concerned about unnecessary surprises. The following articles deal with the other aspects of your life affected by your diagnosis:

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