"I'm sorry. Your tests came back positive. You have breast cancer.“ Being newly diagnosed with breast cancer is the equivalent of a bomb exploding on your life. Regardless of your doctor's exact words to break the news, a breast cancer diagnosis will irrevocably change your life.
Even if you have a family history of breast cancer or a genetic predisposition and understand that your statistical risk is higher, you may still be overwhelmed by the news. But you’re not a statistic. You’re a person with hopes, dreams, and emotions. And a breast cancer diagnosis can send your stress levels into overtime. We understand, first hand.
There’s no right or wrong way to feel after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. You may experience an emotional roller-coaster, with your feelings changing day to day or even hour to hour. Shock, fear, disbelief, numbness, and anger are just a few of the ways a breast cancer diagnosis may make you feel. It may take time to accept that you have cancer and adjust, especially if you don’t feel sick.
You might walk around in a daze. Another person might rush to their computer and frantically Google “breast cancer.” Or, someone else might go home and cry for hours.
When facing a breast cancer diagnosis, your stress levels can quickly spin out of control. Uncertainties about the future, finances, your family, and the sheer number of questions that occupy your mind can all lead to stress. And while there’s no easy fix, there are ways to help better manage the stress that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis.
5 Ways to Manage Stress After Receiving a Breast Cancer Diagnosis
1. Get the Facts
Dealing with the unknown can contribute to stress. It’s essential to gather the information you need to make informed decisions about your health. Get as much basic, helpful information as possible.
While you want as much information as possible, trying to grasp volumes of frightening information at once can be mind-boggling.
It’s a good idea to write a list of questions and concerns before your appointment with the doctor to make sure you get the information you need. An example of the types of questions you might ask include:
What kind of cancer do I have?
Where is the cancer?
Has it spread?
Can my cancer be treated?
What is the chance that my cancer can be cured?
What other tests or procedures do I need?
What are my treatment options?
How will the treatment benefit me?
What can I expect during treatment?
What are the side effects of the treatment?
When should I call the doctor?
What can I do to prevent my cancer from recurring?
How likely are my children or other family members to get cancer
Consider having a family member or friend attend appointments with your doctor. If you cannot have someone participate in person due to COVID, ask your doctor if you can call someone and have them on speakerphone or if you can record the discussion. Having a second pair of ears can help you remember what was discussed and serve as your advocate.
Surviving Breast Cancer also provides overall educational information to help you better understand symptoms, testing, treatment options, surgery, etc., that you can pursue privately. We also produce podcasts that feature professionals, advocates, and caregivers that share valuable information.
Think about how much detail you want to know. Some people want all the facts and be very involved in the decision-making process. Others prefer only learning the basics and feel comfortable leaving details and decisions to their doctors. Everyone is different. Think about which approach works best for you.
2. Find a Support System That Works for You
A breast cancer diagnosis can wreak havoc on your mental health. A strong support system can provide immense comfort and help with coping strategies, but what works for one person won’t necessarily work for everyone.
Some people may choose to work one-on-one with a therapist or counselor, while others prefer group therapy or online communities. Still, others may choose all three. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
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, and you can join any of our groups or get matched with a mentor.
3. Consider Your Finances
The financial burden of a breast cancer diagnosis can be incredibly stressful. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have good health insurance, taking time away from work or an extended time away from home during treatment may impact your finances. Of course, we understand that dealing with the financial burden is easier said than done, but you can take steps to minimize the stress.
Surviving Breast Cancer offers multiple resources about financial support, including financial management guides, podcasts, and webinars. In addition, many clinics and hospitals keep lists of resources to help you financially during and after your cancer treatment. Talk with your health care team about your options.
4. Do Things That Make You Feel Good
Many things outside of medicine can add to your well-being and lower your stress. While you should follow the advice of your medical team, take the time to find and do things that make you feel good.
For example, connecting with your creative side can be a great way to help alleviate stress and relax.
5. Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Getting bad news might make you want to stuff your mouth with Chunky Monkey, raid your chocolate stash, or drown your anxiety with copious amounts of alcohol. Deep down, you know those aren’t the right choices, but you may need to indulge briefly. We get it!
However, living a healthy lifestyle is the best choice once diagnosed with breast cancer. While a specific diet or lifestyle doesn’t provide a cure for cancer, there’s sufficient scientific evidence that making healthy diet choices can help. From making subtle changes to embracing a clean-living lifestyle, knowing you’re making better choices can reduce some of the stress.
Another aspect of a healthy lifestyle involves physical activity. For some people running helps clear their head and reduce their stress. Low-impact activities like yoga, tai chi, or pilates might better suit others.
Remember, exercise produces endorphins in your body, and endorphins help make you feel happy! Always check with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.
You Can Count On Us
A breast cancer diagnosis can upend your life. Between dealing with your emotions, searching for information, finding the doctor that’s right for you, and taking care of yourself, it may sometimes feel like your head is spinning. But, we are here for you from day one, with resources, a caring online community, and anything else to give you strength and hope.
Featured Article: Managing the Emotional Stages of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Check Out More SBC Resources for Newly Diagnosed Breast Cancer