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Coping with Expectations After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis: The Realities and Challenges

By Laura Carfang

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be an overwhelming experience that is followed by an array of emotions and challenges. Adjusting to the diagnosis and treatment can be challenging enough without the added pressure of feeling that one needs to meet the expectations of others. Many people may expect you to return to normal after your breast cancer diagnosis, but the truth is, the journey to recovery is unique for everyone. People often expect you to return to your "normal" life following treatment and find it challenging to comprehend the emotional and physical toll breast cancer can have on a person. This can add an additional layer of burden and frustration to an already difficult experience.


In this blog post, we’ll explore the realities and challenges of life after a breast cancer diagnosis and provide insights and recommendations for coping with the aftermath. We will also address why it’s essential to manage expectations when it comes to breast cancer treatment, acknowledge the challenges of survivorship and offer some practical tips to help you cope with external expectations while focusing on your health.


Challenges no one wants to talk about:

Dealing with the Fear of Recurrence

Following successful cancer treatment, the fear of breast cancer recurrence can feel overwhelming. After weekly chemo infusions or daily visits for radiation, all of a sudden your doctor says they will see you 6 weeks; 3 months; 6 months, etc. I remember that my friends and family thought that this was the best news ever, that I could return to my full-time job, and that we could "finally move on". What wasn't mentioned was the turmoil I was feeling. If I wasn't meeting with my oncologist on a weekly basis, who was going to watch over me? The first year was the worst. Every little thing triggered the thought of breast cancer recurrence; a sneeze, a cough, or a headache led me to believe my cancer had returned. After frantically scheduling an appointment with my primary, we concluded it was just allergies.


It is common that many people who have completed active treatment for early-stage breast cancer (post-treatment) report feeling anxious, depressed, and uncertain about their future health. It's important to recognize that these feelings are normal and valid.


To manage the fear of recurrence, it's essential to engage in activities that promote peace of mind and relaxation, such as yoga, meditation, or spending time with loved ones. Joining a support group with other breast cancer survivors can also be helpful in sharing experiences and providing emotional support (all of which are available through Survivingbreastcancer.org).


Coping with Lingering Physical Symptoms of Cancer Treatment

It's important to note that the breast cancer treatment process is unlike any other medical condition. Breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can cause long-lasting physical symptoms such as fatigue, lymphedema, and pain or discomfort. It can be challenging to explain these symptoms to others, as you may appear outwardly healthy and these symptoms are invisible.



It's important to communicate with loved ones and healthcare providers about these symptoms to ensure adequate support and treatment. Engaging in physical therapy, massage, or alternative therapies such as acupuncture, and staying active can also help alleviate persistent physical symptoms from cancer treatment.


People around you may not understand what you're going through and the challenges you face daily, which can lead to unreasonable expectations. While they may have good intentions, it can feel like they’re trivializing your experience when they expect you to act like everything is okay just because you look okay physically. Therefore, it’s paramount to communicate your experiences and what you need from others. Consider opening up and honestly talking to family, friends, and even work colleagues and your manager, about what you are facing and how you feel.


Another way to cope with expectations is to set boundaries. For example, I found the transition back to work incredibly challenging. Going from a 12-week medical leave and jumping right back into 40 hours a week did not work for me. I was emotional, I was dealing with brain fog, and some of the pettiness of day-to-day life just didn't seem that important to me anymore after a cancer diagnosis. I was fortunate to be able to work with HR and my direct manager to ease back into work, manage my workload, and luckily work back up to full-time hours when I was able. Setting reasonable expectations can help you feel less overwhelmed and more in control.


Navigating Relationships After Breast Cancer


Maintaining relationships can prove to be a challenge after a breast cancer diagnosis. People may treat you differently, including overly-generous gestures or avoidance, leaving some feeling isolated and rejected.


Taking the initiative to reach out to friends and family, setting boundaries, and explaining one's needs can help manage these challenging relationships. Joining a breast cancer survivors group can also provide a sense of community and support.


Moreover, taking care of yourself is also essential and this includes paying attention to what you eat, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Doing things that make you happy can also offer a great release and help you relax. Consider meditation, reading books, or taking up a new hobby to help you take your mind off the cancer-related stressors.


Lastly, try to be gentle with yourself - it is okay not to be at the top of your game all the time. Every day may not be the same, and that’s just fine. Be patient with yourself


In conclusion, receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is a challenging and often isolating experience. It's essential to recognize that the journey of a breast cancer survivor continues long after treatment. It's crucial to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and financially, and to seek support from loved ones and medical professionals. Remember to be both patient and kind to yourself, focus on the things you enjoy, and celebrate small victories.



No one has a perfect life, but you can make the best of what you have. Remember, you're not alone in this experience.

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