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Emotions and Your Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Coping, Surviving, and Moving On From a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

By

Updated August 13, 2009

A cancer diagnosis brings many things to cope with, both body and mind. When you are given the news of a breast cancer diagnosis, you may react on many different levels all at once. Your heart skips a beat, lungs gasp for air, ears block out sound, eyes become still and wet, stomach contracts, and arms move protectively across your chest. Your mind and emotions wrestle for control, a struggle that may go on until you have time to adjust.

Whatever you feel upon your initial cancer diagnosis, allow yourself time to process your feelings. You are a unique person, with your own particular set of circumstances, experiences, background, and resources. The journey you're about to embark upon will challenge you in many ways, and will call upon inner resources that you may not know you have. Your reaction may vary, since your family situation, support network, workplace setting, financial status, and perceptions about cancer are unique to you. You don't have to "do cancer" just like anybody else has done it -- this is your journey.

You Are Not Alone

It is normal to feel shock, fear, and anxiety when you receive your initial diagnosis. Such reactions are part of the emotional stages of breast cancer. You may feel isolated by breast cancer when you are initially diagnosed. Cancer may seem to erect a wall around you, or label you as damaged, sick, and different. But keep this in mind: You are still the same person that you were before diagnosis. Breast cancer will not define you; although it may pare away pretense, test relationships, and raise unresolved issues, the essential person that you are will emerge.

Remember, too, that when you are diagnosed, you join a great many other women and men who have been down this road and survived. So as you go into treatment, plan on being a survivor.

Distress, Anxiety and Getting Help

As the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis sinks in, it is common to feel anxious, distressed, fatigued, restless, and distracted. You may have trouble focusing on everyday tasks, and may even lose interest in basic activities. If you become depressed, get help to resolve it. Counseling and medications are available to help you cope. Seek out a support group, learn how to express your emotions, educate yourself about your diagnosis, and take control of lifestyle factors that can ease your journey.

Adjustment and Finding Your Inner Warrior

Once you learn more about your diagnosis and have a treatment plan mapped out, you may begin to adjust to your situation. This doesn't mean you will become comfortable with cancer, but you may come to accept the fact that you have cancer. This is a psychologically healthy point at which to find your inner warrior.

A study done by the National Cancer Institute found that women who expressed their emotions, or had other ways to release their feelings, had stronger immune systems. This "fighting spirit" actually made their bodies more able to combat cancer and endure treatment.

Contemplating Mortality and Survivorship

Receiving a cancer diagnosis makes you face the problems of how to deal with disease, life, and death. You may not be sure which you dread the most -- treatments or death. Some women report that the prospect of chemotherapy was worse than the actual experience, and more terrifying than the possibility of their own death. But you should know the facts about mortality and survival with breast cancer. Early detection and treatments have made great strides in the quality of life and survival of this disease. More women experience remission and live on to encourage others and enjoy a full life after breast cancer.

Moving Beyond Diagnosis

Dealing with your emotions can actually aid your journey through treatment and help take you into survival. The American Cancer Society reports that women in treatment who expressed their emotions, instead of suppressing those feelings, had stronger immune systems and better outcomes. A study done in 2008 at Utrecht University, The Netherlands, found four themes that were common to patients who made a healthy adjustment to a severe diagnosis. Here is what the researchers concluded:
"To promote psychological adjustment, patients should remain as active as is reasonably possible, acknowledge and express their emotions in a way that allows them to take control of their lives, engage in self-management, and try to focus on potential positive outcomes of their illness."

When you receive a breast cancer diagnosis, the feelings that you have -- whatever they are -- are warranted. Empower yourself with knowledge of your options, and tap into the strength of those around you and of yourself, so you can take on this new challenge as best you can.

Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.
- Maori Proverb

Sources:

"Expressing Emotions Helps Women with Breast Cancer." American Cancer Society. Article date: 2000/12/06.

"Psychological adjustment to chronic disease." Dr, Prof Denise de Ridder PhD, Prof Rinie Geenen PhD, Roeline Kuijer PhD, Henriët van Middendorp PhD. The Lancet, Volume 372, Issue 9634, Pages 246 - 255, 19 July 2008.

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