A breast cancer diagnosis can send you into a tailspin. The official pronouncement can stir emotions whether you’re newly diagnosed, face a reoccurrence, or experiencing progression.
A breast cancer diagnosis can leave some people feeling shocked, numb, and asking themselves, “How could this happen to me? I was doing everything ‘right.’” Others may feel frightened in a stressful time of uncertainty, while some kick it into high gear and fierce planning mode, trying to control what is in their power. Hopefully, knowing that your emotional reactions are natural can be reassuring.
The reality is that breast cancer and its treatment can be unpleasant and frightening, so, understandably, you experience a range of emotions. In addition, you may feel uncertain about the future and worry about balancing work, finances, family, etc.— all of which can contribute to building stress and be traumatic.
Each person reacts to breast cancer differently, and it is possible to feel many different emotions simultaneously. There’s no right or wrong way to respond to a life-changing diagnosis, just as there’s no single way to deal with the feelings that come about due to a diagnosis. Everyone is unique, and you have permission to deal with your emotions in the best way that works for you.
Although there’s no easy solution, it may be reassuring to understand the emotional impact and seek support as you navigate this challenging time.
Emotional Stages of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis
The feelings generated by a breast cancer diagnosis are sometimes compared to the five stages of grief identified by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969—denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and depression, and acceptance. In many ways, it is much like mourning your pre-diagnosis life. However, while the framework included in this model is familiar to many people, it isn’t necessarily how everyone will process their diagnosis.
Although the stages of grief are sometimes numbered sequentially, people don’t necessarily experience them in that order or for a specific time. You may feel all or some of these emotions or other emotions not referenced here.
When faced with overwhelming news, people sometimes go into denial. The shock can make you feel numb or stunned, leading to an initial feeling of disbelief. Denial is a subconscious natural coping mechanism that protects us from becoming too overwhelmed. It allows us to process the news in more manageable pieces.
Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can trigger anger in some people. For example, you may feel angry because you feel out of control, feel life as you know it is changing, or if your family and friends don’t react to the news the way you expect.
Although nothing could prepare you for getting a breast cancer diagnosis, many people respond by thinking, “what if.” If only you had found the tumor earlier or somehow prevented your cancer. Your mind focuses on those scenarios in an attempt to gain control. Unfortunately, bargaining can sometimes lead to blaming yourself for your cancer, but being diagnosed with breast cancer is not your fault.
Sadness and Depression
It’s completely natural that learning you have breast cancer would cause you to feel sad or have symptoms of depression. Depression can manifest in several ways, including a lack of motivation and interest, sleeping issues, or a lack of appetite.
Coming to terms with your new reality can be challenging but can lead to hope and feeling empowered. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t continue to struggle with other feelings such as fear, anger, or sadness. Acceptance may help you make decisions about your future and experience inner strength.
Navigating and Managing Your Emotions
When diagnosed with breast cancer, you have to sort through the overwhelming volumes of information to make informed decisions about your treatment plan. Dealing with the roller coaster of emotions and the unknown can significantly increase your stress level and interfere with your ability to make informed decisions about your health.
However, managing the emotional stages of your diagnosis is essential because it will put you in a better position to understand your treatment options and handle the treatment demands.
It’s essential to alert your healthcare team about the emotions you’re experiencing so they can connect you with resources to help support you. Anger and depression, for example, can have severe consequences if left untreated.
“Everyone has an opinion but what it is that I should do. However, at the end of the day, the choice was mine. They were my decisions and decisions I had to live with. For me, this gave me peace and control. As long as I could wake up every day and honestly look at myself in the mirror knowing that I made the best decision for ME, then I was content. This mindset also allowed me to alleviate a lot of the stress around me too!” –Laura Carfang
Surviving Breast Cancer also offers multiple resources about financial support, including financial management guides, podcasts, and webinars to provide you with information and lessen your anxiety. In addition, our global online community offers opportunities to connect with others for safe, judgment-free, peer-to-peer support to ensure that you’re never alone. We also offer healing workshops and mindful movement classes, and you can join any of our groups or get matched with a mentor.
Count On Us
A breast cancer diagnosis can upend your life. It may sometimes feel like your head is spinning between dealing with your emotions, searching for information, finding the right doctor, and taking care of yourself. But, we are here for you from day one, with resources, a caring online community, and anything else to give you strength and hope.