Hearing your doctor say, “I’m sorry, you have breast cancer,” is a life-altering moment. Your world may come to a screeching halt, as those words ring in your ears and your diagnosis sinks in. But it’s not the end of the world. Not by a long shot.
No matter how you’re feeling, this guide gives you heart-to-heart advice on how to cope with breast cancer. We understand that it’s far from easy, but the New Hope Unlimited team is here to help lighten the emotional burden, even through a screen.
Acknowledging the Emotional Side of Breast Cancer
Depression, anxiety, fear, anger, loneliness, and hopelessness are common reactions to a breast cancer diagnosis. Body image and self-esteem issues may also arise.
If you can relate, you are not alone. Data from World Cancer Research Fund International shows that as of 2020, 18.1 million people have cancer. Of them, 1 out of 4 experience major or clinical depression.
Your loved ones and caregivers may also go through a rollercoaster of emotions. They may feel inadequate or frustrated about “not being helpful enough.” Seeing you have a hard time – not to mention the intrusive thoughts of losing someone they love – can also cause anxiety, fear, and heartbreak.
Ways to Cope With Breast Cancer
Remember, breast cancer is one of the most curable cancers with advanced treatment options available. The 5-year relative survival rate for women with a localized breast tumor is nearly 100 percent. So, you may face difficulties and stressors along the way, but never lose hope of coming out stronger and healthier on the other side.
If you need support, comfort, and advice on how to cope with breast cancer and your changing emotions, the following tips may help. We also have suggestions for family, friends, and caregivers below.
1. Accept the love, care, and help offered to you
We have witnessed countless patients put on brave faces or act strong for others, often casting aside their own vulnerabilities and needs. While the situation can be emotionally challenging for close friends and family members, the patient’s needs should be the priority.
Allowing yourself to receive love, care, and support is not a sign of weakness; it’s proof of your strength. You and cancer are on a battlefield, and battles are rarely fought alone. Embracing the affection that family, friends, and healthcare specialists offer goes beyond accepting support; it’s permitting yourself to heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Each gesture of love, each moment of care, is a reminder that you are not alone in this fight. It’s an affirmation that you matter and deserve comfort and support. Breast cancer may challenge your body, but it cannot diminish the love and care around you. So, let it in, like warm sunlight on a cold winter day. It will nourish your soul, making the battle a little easier to bear, and helping you emerge on the other side.
How loved ones and caregivers can show their love and support
After a doctor’s appointment, mastectomy, lumpectomy, or any cancer-related activity, a patient may grow distant or detached, as complex emotions rush through their minds. Tasks like eating, bathing, dressing, or being intimate with a partner can suddenly seem pointless. During these times, loved ones and caregivers must offer unwavering support.
If a patient pulls away, give them space, but reassure them that you’re here to stay, and that they can lean on you without hesitation. Low social support in cancer patients leads to high levels of depression and poor overall health and quality of life.
Be patient, have empathy, and show compassion. These gestures reaffirm a patient’s sense of worth and may help improve cancer outcomes.
2. Communicate your innermost thoughts and feelings
Any cancer diagnosis is a seismic shift in one’s life, a storm of emotions difficult to navigate. In such moments, bottling up those emotions can be suffocating.
“Express your emotions” is a simple yet powerful piece of advice. It’s an invitation to let it out, to let your heart speak without reservation. It’s an opportunity to vocalize your fears, to shed tears, to share your hopes and despair. When you express your emotions, you grant them a voice; in doing so, you liberate yourself from their weight.
When you conceal your emotions, you subject yourself to these consequences:
- Feeling disconnected and alone
- Constant anxiety
- Latching onto harmful coping mechanisms
- Changes in appetite, leading to unhealthy weight loss or gain
- Frequent headaches
- Lowered immune function, impacting cancer outcomes
- Overreacting to everything, causing others to walk on eggshells around you
In other words, both your physical and mental health take a hit when you repress your feelings.
If you’re struggling to open up, consider journaling. Writing is a powerful form of self-expression. It can also ease you into expressing yourself to those you trust.
Start by jotting down how you felt today, why you think you felt that way, or what caused you to react negatively or positively to something. There’s no pressure to write every day. You only need to open your journal and pour out your emotions when they overwhelm you.
Journaling has several benefits; it can help you identify your fears, track triggering symptoms of pent-up emotions, and even inspire you to keep going.
How loved ones and caregivers should communicate with a cancer patient
If someone near and dear to you is living with cancer, remember to lend a compassionate ear, to hold a hand, and to create a safe space where their emotions can be freely shared. They need you more than ever. Just keep in mind that some days will be bright and sunny, but most will be gloomy with a chance of rainfall. How you respond, whether through words or actions, will go a long way in helping them cope through treatments.
We recommend reading How to Give Emotional and Practical Support to a Cancer Patient for an in-depth guide.
3. Implement strategies to alleviate stress
Your mental and physical health will rapidly decline if you spend your days waiting between medical check-ups and cancer treatments.
Stress and anxiety are your body’s reactions to pressure, threats, and demands. Feeling stressed and anxious every now and then is normal, but chronic and high levels can deteriorate physical and mental health. Unmanaged, these emotional responses can cause a cascading chain of negativity with a high potential for harmful coping mechanisms. For example, some seek solace in food, using it to “escape” cancer’s burden in life. This, in turn, can foster unhealthy relationships with food, potentially leading to eating disorders. Overwhelming stress and anxiety can also trigger habits like smoking and heavy drinking, deterring cancer treatment success or causing recurrence in survivors.
Furthermore, evidence from laboratory studies in animal models show that chronic stress may cause cancer progression and metastasis.
Stress and anxiety due to cancer often intertwine and feed off one another. They can become insidious companions, heightening fears, deepening feelings of depression and hopelessness, and pushing you to the brink of despair. Don’t let them take over. Try to include a few of these anti-stress techniques in your daily routine:
- Meditating: Meditation is clinically proven to help relieve stress and promote emotional balance in cancer patients and survivors.
- Aromatherapy: This holistic healing option uses natural plant extracts, such as lavender, jasmine, and ylang-ylang, to induce relaxation and deliver other therapeutic benefits.
- Counseling: Individual or support group counseling lets you talk through your feelings with professional guidance and utmost confidentiality.
- Staying physically active: Regular exercise, even light activities like walking or yoga, can release endorphins and improve mental well-being.
- Engaging in creative activities: Painting, sketching, story writing, photography, and other creative outlets can release feel-good hormones and lower stress hormones in the body.
Always remember that taking care of yourself is also your responsibility. Little things like sipping tea in front of a fireplace, enjoying a bubble bath, playing a video game, or trying our tips above are essential for your daily dose of joy. They can bring enjoyment and purpose to your life, giving you new reasons to get up and continue fighting.
Also read: Six Ways to Relax Without Spending a Dime
How loved ones and caregivers can help a patient alleviate stress
Always ensure a nonjudgmental space for them to share their feelings and concerns. Encourage healthy stress management strategies, or help them pick up old habits that they dropped after getting diagnosed with cancer.
For instance, if they love watching old Hollywood movies but gradually lost interest between hospital visits, try this: Create a cozy environment at home or in their hospital room. Play one of their favorite films and offer to watch it together. Ensure the experience is relaxed and without pressure. If they say no, respect their pace and preferences as they ease back into familiar hobbies. Relieving stress and anxiety is a lifeline in the storm, allowing breast cancer patients to find pockets of calm amid the chaos.
4. Take steps to regain confidence and self-love
In between doctors’ appointments and treatments, it’s easy to neglect your well-being. However, pampering your body, mind, and spirit is a necessity. Self-care is clinically proven to minimize or eliminate anxiety and depression, reduce stress, boost happiness, and more. It can also help you adjust to changes and mentally recover from setbacks like being diagnosed with cancer.
“Self-care” seems like a fancy term, but it simply involves making time for relaxation; for hobbies you enjoy; for nature walks that invigorate your soul; for activities that make you feel alive and good about yourself. If you’re ready to jump on the self-care train, here are some self-care tips that anyone can get into:
- Take care of your hair, skin, and nails to stay positive about your appearance and prevent body image issues during cancer treatment.
- Do five-minute deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) to calm your mind and body.
- Choose who you spend your precious time with.
- Take breaks from social media or reading about cancer news.
- Laugh heartily to release endorphins and strengthen your immune system.
- Avoid turning to food for comfort. Repetitive emotional eating can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, and constant fatigue.
- Try Pilates to regain energy and improve mood.
- Familiarize yourself with the art of positive thinking.
Finally, don’t postpone your self-care plans to the next weekend, summer break, or the event of a zombie apocalypse. Start today and be consistent to see a difference! Remember, self-care is a necessity. Making it a priority despite the battle with cancer is a declaration that you choose to care for well-being and self-esteem, allowing the light of self-love to guide you through the darkest of times.
How loved ones and caregivers can help a patient feel good about themselves
The side effects of conventional medicine and the stress of cancer can make patients feel less feminine or attractive to themselves. As part of their support system, be comforting, patient, and mindful of your words and actions during this time. Offer to help them look for solutions, like natural-looking wigs for hair loss or breast prostheses following a mastectomy. More importantly, remind them that their beauty and self-worth shine beyond these temporary physical changes.
5. Aim for a full night’s slumber
The toll of treatments, emotional strain, and breast cancer’s daily demands can wear you down. Adequate rest is your sanctuary.
During sleep, your body repairs, rejuvenates, and regenerates. It’s during these hours that your mind finds peace. It can improve your mental and emotional state, reducing the risk of depression and anxiety. A well-rested body is also better equipped to cope with the physical challenges of breast cancer, potentially mitigating side effects like fatigue and pain.
Here are ten recommendations for better sleep:
- Build a medication routine, ensuring to take your meds at the same recommended time daily. Taking some medications later in the day might delay sleep onset or suppress REM sleep.
- Minimize daytime naps (less than an hour) and aim for regular exercise. Collaborate with your healthcare team to create an exercise plan that works for each stage of your cancer journey.
- Avoid drinking coffee for at least 6 to 8 hours before bedtime, or longer if it disrupts your sleep.
- Steer clear of alcohol, which can affect sleep quality.
- Opt for sleep-inducing beverages like warm milk or chamomile tea an hour or two before bedtime.
- Switch off or put away all electronic devices at least an hour before sleeping.
- Keep your sheets clean, neatly tucked in, and wrinkle-free to ensure a comfortable and peaceful sleep environment.
- If you can barely sleep and observe unusual changes in your sleep patterns, consult your healthcare team.
- See a sleep specialist who can diagnose and treat disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, and other similar conditions.
How loved ones and caregivers can help promote better sleep
- Assist in creating a peaceful and cozy sleep environment.
- Remind them to put their electronic devices away at least one hour before sleeping.
- Get the patient’s consent to maintain a sleep journal, noting overall sleep duration, nap duration, sleep quality, and any factors or issues impacting sleep.
- Suggest a light evening snack.
- Offer a soothing back or foot massage before bedtime.
- Inform the healthcare team if the patient experiences nighttime confusion or disorientation.
6. Don’t hesitate to discuss how you feel with your doctors and nurses
Never underestimate the healing power of honest conversations with your healthcare providers. Doctors and nurses are “guardians of your health and wellness.” For instance, the New Hope Unlimited team aims to address your physical symptoms while understanding your mind and heart. We are here to listen, offer solace, and guide you toward emotional healing, for your mental and spiritual health are as important as the physical battle you’re fighting.
Negative emotions are not signs of weakness; they are reactions to a life-altering experience. By discussing your feelings and experiences (including all of the above), you grant your medical team valuable insights, allowing them to tailor your care more effectively. They can recommend therapies, support groups, or even medications when needed. Speaking openly can also provide a sense of relief and connection.
Breast Cancer and Suicide Risk
Cancer patients are 2 to 3 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Such thoughts may arise as fleeting responses to the overwhelming and confined feelings that cancer can bring. However, if you always think of harming yourself or are planning to do so, please pause, take a deep breath, and seek help immediately. Reach out to a loved one, your healthcare team, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial the code “988” if you’re in the United States.
The Bottom Line on Effective Coping Strategies for Breast Cancer
Don’t isolate yourself or shy away from sharing how you feel, whether it’s the weight of depression or the grip of anxiety. Your loved ones and healthcare team are your allies in this journey; they are dedicated to helping you emerge not only as a breast cancer survivor, but also as a whole and emotionally resilient individual.
New Hope Medical Center is a trusted leader in alternative cancer treatments, including but not limited to mind-body therapies, manipulative and body-based techniques, biologically based healing methods, and other non-toxic yet effective interventions. If you have breast cancer, don’t wait; take charge of your health today. Write to us at [email protected] or dial 480-666-1403 to schedule a consultation. Your journey to remission starts now.