Coping With the Emotions of Breast Cancer

Letting It Out, Living Longer With Breast Cancer

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How can you cope with the emotions of being diagnosed and living with breast cancer?  It's important not only for your emotional well-being but survival as well.

Initial Shock

A diagnosis of breast cancer is a great shock. Women report that they fear breast cancer more than heart disease, even though they have a better chance of surviving breast cancer but later not surviving stroke or heart failure.

Breast cancer has been with us since the early Egyptians and fear of this disease as well as the treatments for it seems to be inherent in women all across the world.

Typical Emotions

Here are some typical emotions that you may experience at diagnosis and during treatment:

  • Fear and shock
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Guilt (self-blame)
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Hope

Physical Responses

As you begin to deal with diagnosis and treatment, your body will be reacting to emotions as well as surgery and drugs. Your physical responses to the overall stress may be:

  • Fear—may cause you to have trouble sleeping, headaches, and body aches
  • Anger—can raise your blood pressure and cause your heart to race
  • Depression—may result in fatigue (and nobody feels good when they are crying or feeling moody)
  • Stress—can make pain worse or cause you to be irritable

Unresolved or Unexpressed Emotions 

You are not alone with your diagnosis—or your emotions.

Expressing your feelings can give you quite a bit of relief, helping you move forward in your journey. Not all of us are freely expressive, but there are safe and creative outlets for your feelings.

Letting your emotions out will help you get support and heal more quickly. Your bottled-up emotions may lead to:

  • Loneliness or withdrawal from others
  • Frustration
  • Hopelessness and despair
  • Feeling out of control

Emotional Concerns

When you've accepted your diagnosis, you may be facing other emotional concerns. The loss of a breast, or part of a breast, has an impact that goes beyond the physical fact. If aggressive treatment is required, it might have a long-term impact on your health. It is normal to be concerned about:

  • Fear of recurrence
  • Loss of attractiveness
  • Difficulty with sexual function
  • Loss of fertility

Coping & Surviving

You can improve your emotional health and reduce your physical symptoms with good coping strategies. It's been found that women who get help with pain and emotional distress have lower levels of anxiety, fatigue, and depression. Here are some ways to cope with your emotions:

  • Express your needs and ask for help (make sure to express your negative emotions—you don't have to always try to be positive)
  • Report your symptoms to your healthcare team
  • Keep a log of medical visits, save test results, and keep receipts
  • Educate yourself about your cancer and treatments
  • Exercise
  • Get creative and artistic
  • Make plans for a crisis

Getting Help

You may feel under pressure to "be strong" or "act brave" when you least feel that way. Perhaps you don't easily share your feelings with others. You may be in a position of responsibility and trust and feel like you must contain your fears and hide your disease or the effects of treatment.

Sharing these feelings and struggles may make you feel vulnerable. A recent study that women with breast cancer whodo express their anger, fear, sadness, and affection in a group setting live longer than women who suppress these emotions.

Here are some ways to express your emotions and boost your emotional and physical health:

  • Make time to talk to family members, especially children
  • Communicate with friends and coworkers
  • Attend a support group or join an online support community
  • Find a good therapist and commit to regular visits

Your feelings about breast cancer and its effect on your body, family, relationships, finances, and mortality are valid and normal. Expressing your emotions and needs will help boost your mental and physical health. Letting it out lets you live longer! 

Sources:

American Cancer Society. Emotional Aspects of Breast Cancer. 01/15/16. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-after-emotional-aspects

The American Cancer Society. The emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis. 06/26/14. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/emotionalsideeffects/index

Brandao T, Tavares R, Schulz M, Matos P. Measuring emotion regulation and emotional expression in breast cancer patients: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review. 2016. 43:114-27.

Fallowfield L, Jenkins V. Psychosocial/survivorship issues in breast cancer: are we doing better? Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2014. 107(1):335.

Stanton A, Bower J. Psychological Adjustment in Breast Cancer Survivors. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. 2015. 862:231-42.

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