Updated: Nov 1, 2022
When you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, there's a lot to consider. The physical, emotional, and mental health needs can be overwhelming. The emotional concerns — like dealing with the stress of a diagnosis, accessing financial and legal resources, and worrying about how you can continue to care for yourself and your family — are as impactful as the physical ones. Both can affect your ability to cope and follow a treatment plan.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to (hopefully) ease a challenging situation. Many of the suggestions come directly from those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, oncologists, nurses, and social workers. Some are practical, while others are designed to lift your spirits.
Get Specifics About Your Diagnosis and Treatment Plan
Learning you have breast cancer can be daunting. However, obtaining as much information as possible will help you make decisions about your care. Even if you’re initially in shock, eventually, you’ll have many questions. Write any questions you have in a notebook or record a memo on your phone, this way you can refer to at your appointment. Then, take notes on the answer your medical team provides.
It’s difficult to grasp all the information your medical team is sharing with you. If possible, take a friend or family member to your appointments who can act as your advocate.
It may be helpful for this person to also take notes. We also recommend requesting a copy of their pathology report and treatment plan to review at home.
Most importantly, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor to clarify anything you don’t understand. It’s okay to say, “I’m sorry, could you please explain that again?”r “Could you write that down for me?” or, how do you spell that? Friends in our breast cancer community often wish they had asked more questions during their initial appointments which is why we’ve put together the top list of questions to ask your breast cancer oncologist, radiologist, and surgeon
Seek Help To Navigate Financial Issues
The added burden of worrying about your financial situation can impede your ability to cope and heal. Hospitals and clinics have social workers, patient navigators, and financial services departments that can help you manage financial concerns and deal with private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid.
A healthcare provider, such as your physician, nurse, or social worker may have information on financial resources. Most hospitals and treatment centers have financial counselors. They can help you with the details of your insurance paperwork and give you an estimate of the cost of your treatment.
Financial counselors can also help you work out a payment plan. If you are unable to pay, some places may be willing to reduce or waive some costs if you ask. Hospital discharge planners, patient service offices, nurse navigators and patient navigators may also have information on resources and advice about financial matters.
For questions about your insurance policy, state insurance agencies and insurance companies can be helpful. No matter your income, you may qualify for financial aid from federal, state or local programs. A financial counselor at your hospital can help you learn about these programs.
Many organizations offer financial assistance and help with travel, lodging and medical items, including prescription drugs. Some are listed below:
Affordable Care Act (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services): Find information on choosing a health insurance plan and the Affordable Care Act.
A.M. Best: Find official insurance company ratings.
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP): Find detailed information on Medicare and other health insurance programs for people over 50, or call 888-OUR-AARP (888-687-2277)
American Cancer Society – Understanding Financial and Legal Matters: Find information on financial topics. Call 800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345) for more information.
HealthWell Foundation: The HealthWell Foundation is a national non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to insured Americans who struggle to meet their out-of-pocket costs for medical treatments. Email them at email@example.com, or call at (800) 675-8416.
At SBC, we have articles related to finances, so be sure to check out these resources as well.
If you’re not already exercising, include it in your routine. Gentle exercise — like walking, yoga, tai chi, swimming, or water aerobics — is vital for the mental and physical effects of treatment. In addition, some patients claim that regular exercise helps with the mental fogginess that affects some during and after chemotherapy, known as “chemo brain.”
Gradually increasing exercise after treatment can also help improve fatigue and rebuild muscle tone. It might even help with long-term cancer remission- a study published in 2021 found that women who exercised regularly both before and after treatment had a better long-term prognosis and increased survival. If you’re looking for ways to stay active during or after your breast cancer treatment, SBC has a twice-monthly Movement Monday class- we’d love to see you there!
Anticipate Possible Physical Changes
Treatment may cause physical changes, which can be different for everybody. Prepare yourself to deal with any changes. Ask your healthcare provider what may change. For example, medicines may make you lose your hair. Seeking the advice of experts about clothing or wigs may help you feel more comfortable as you go through treatment. Insurance will often pay for wigs.
Take Things One Day at a Time
We realize this can be easier said than done, but cancer treatment and recovery is a process. Try to take things one day at a time to make life more manageable and reduce your stress.
Find Your People
Community is vitally important when dealing with cancer and treatments. Having a support network that you can rely on can help you cope. Identify those people you can count on when you need support and realize that some people are better at delivering practical help while others are best at giving emotional support.
Although the support of your loved ones is essential, it can be challenging for people who don’t have breast cancer to understand how you’re feeling. It can help to talk with people who have faced similar challenges. Other survivors can share their stories and give insight into what to expect. Knowing long-term survivors can help you realize that breast cancer doesn’t automatically mean you’re doomed.
Online breast cancer support groups, like Surviving Breast Cancer’s global community, ensure you’re never alone. Instead, you’re surrounded by others who have been touched by breast cancer and are generous with their stories.
Mindfulness has many well-documented benefits, including helping people cope with cancer. Cancer and cancer treatments can be extremely stressful. The practice of mindfulness includes breathing techniques and guided imagery. Mindfulness can help reduce stress and calm your mind to help you feel more peaceful.
You can start mindfulness by setting aside one minute to slow down and breathe.
Find a quiet spot where you can be alone for a few minutes.
Sit down, take a deep breath, and close your eyes. Notice your breath.
Other thoughts will pop up in your mind at some point (usually pretty quickly). That’s okay! Just bring your attention back to your breath.
Focus on your breathing right here, right now.
Rely on Experts
The internet is a wonderful tool for research, but there’s a lot of misleading and false information. So it’s vital to find trustworthy sources. Pay attention to who owns the website and select advice from credible sources. If something piques your interest, discuss it with your doctor. There are hundreds of ongoing clinical trials of many new breast cancer therapies; a list of NIH-funded trials can be found here.
Allow Yourself Bad Days
You’re allowed to have bad days. Some days, you might just feel frustrated, angry, or down. That’s okay. Give yourself a break.
Talk to Someone
Receiving a cancer diagnosis and going through treatment is a lot to handle, and it’s not surprising that you might feel engulfed in emotions. It might be a good idea to seek help from a psychologist or social work counselor after your diagnosis or any time you need someone to talk to during or after treatment. They can help you address and work through your feelings and guide you to help you cope.
Be Your Own Advocate
You know your body better than anyone. If something feels off, speak up. Finding a doctor who will listen to your concerns and take them seriously is critical. It can save your life! It may also be beneficial to get multiple professional opinions, to see if there is an alternate treatment course that may be better for you. Don’t be afraid to get a second, or even a third opinion to get as much information as possible.
Be Kind to Yourself
Everyone responds differently to treatment. Recovery can take longer than you expected, and you may also have to deal with side effects from your treatment. Your care team can help you set realistic expectations for how long your recovery might take and when you might feel more like yourself again.
Conserve Your Energy for the Things That Matter Most
Realistically, there may be days during your treatment when you feel lousy and experience low energy. Save your energy for things that bring joy to your life, and aim for a moment of joy each day. It can be something really simple, like watching a video of your child laughing or a photo of a special moment in your life.
Count On Us for Information, Resources, and Support
Surviving Breast Cancer is by your side every day, every month, and every year. Whether you’re newly diagnosed with breast cancer, are navigating survivorship, or are the loved one of someone experiencing breast cancer, you can count on Surviving Breast Cancer to keep you informed. We provide educational information to help you better understand symptoms, testing, treatment options, surgery, etc., and podcasts that feature professionals, advocates, and caregivers that share valuable information.
Our global online community not only offers opportunities to connect with others for safe, judgment-free, peer-to-peer support but also ensures that you’re never alone. We also offer healing workshops and mindful movement classes; you can join any of our groups. Contact us today to learn more about or benefit from our services.