Breast Cancer and Your Mental Health
When you hear the words “You have breast cancer,” it’s easy to think of all the physical results that cancer will have on your body. You might think about surgery, chemo, radiation, or hormone therapy. But what about the mental & emotional effects of having cancer?
A cancer diagnosis can affect your emotional health in ways you might not expect. Common feelings during this life-changing experience include anxiety, distress, and depression. Roles at home, school, and work can be affected as well. It’s important to recognize these changes and get help when needed.
Treatment side effects
Cancer treatment can bring about many side effects, including fatigue and nausea. It’s important to talk to your doctor about your concerns and report any new symptoms you have. Your doctor will determine whether the symptoms are caused by cancer or its treatment; if the former, then adjusting your schedule of chemotherapy may help reduce them. If it’s the latter though, such as a new medication causing headaches or skin rashes—your doctor can create an action plan for managing these symptoms while still providing effective treatment for your cancer.
If your side effects are severe enough that they make it difficult for you to manage everyday activities like work or school—or even just getting through basic day-to-day tasks like cooking meals or bathing—then talk with someone about other options for treatment that might be more effective with fewer side effects (or none at all).
Fear of recurrence
It’s common for women to have concerns about the possibility of a recurrence after breast cancer treatment. Some women may be very worried about this, while others may not feel concerned at all. There is no right or wrong way to feel about it—your feelings are valid and you are not alone in having them.
If you do have concerns about recurrence, here’s what you can do:
- Recognize your emotions surrounding this fear. Your Feelings are Valid. Don’t ignore them or browbeat yourself for having them. Accept that you are human and that it is natural and normal to experience some fear. Then focus on ways to manage the anxiety.
- Know the facts. Your risk of recurrence depends on many factors; your age, the type of breast cancer and its stage. Talk with your oncologist about your specific medical situation and then;
- Work with your medical team to create a survivorship follow-up plan that includes a timetable for surveillance and follow-up appointments.
Talking about it
As you begin to understand breast cancer, and the treatment options available to you, it is important to take time to talk about your feelings, fears and emotions with your support network of family and friends. While some people can feel embarrassed talking about their concerns with others, this is actually a good way of dealing with them. Your healthcare team will also be able to support you in working through any issues that may arise from having cancer.
If you are unable or unwilling to discuss your feelings with others, try writing them down. Keeping a journal about what is worrying you, your experience and emotional recovery journey can help clarify thoughts so that they become easier for people around you to understand and share our concerns more openly when we are ready for them too
Mindfulness is a practice of focusing on the present moment without judgment. It can help you feel more relaxed and cope with stress, anxiety and other difficult emotions, as well as side effects from breast cancer treatment.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but one simple way is to focus on your breathing. Imagine that each time you breathe in, you’re filling up an empty glass with water from the bottom up to the top; then imagine that when you exhale, the glass empties out completely before refilling again on your next inhale. This process can be repeated for 5-10 minutes at a time (or longer if desired).
- Stress management
It’s important to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, if possible. This will help your body fight the cancer, as well as reduce the stress associated with having breast cancer. It’s also important to get enough sleep every night and take time out of your day for relaxation. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health!
Having a strong support network can help you get through tough times. You may find that talking to family, friends, coworkers or even coworkers’ partners or children is helpful.
Talking with other survivors of breast cancer can be an important part of your support system. You might want to consider joining a support group or finding out about local activities such as free movies and lecture series for women with breast cancer. If you are in the early stages of treatment, it’s also important to talk with your medical team about whether they recommend joining a clinical trial (if there are any available).
If you have questions about how your mental health is affected by having breast cancer—or if you just need someone else who understands what you’re going through—it’s important to talk with someone who has been in your shoes before. A therapist who specializes in working with people diagnosed with breast cancer may be able to help guide you through difficult days as well as provide valuable advice on what steps can be taken on days when everything seems overwhelming and hopeless
After treatment is completed, it’s normal to experience a range of emotions. But there are ways to cope with those feelings.
Once your treatment is complete and you’re feeling healthy, it’s normal to experience a range of emotions. You may be relieved, but also sad about having to give up the special foods and hobbies that made life more enjoyable during treatment. You might feel guilty for having been away from work or home and worried about how your family will manage without you.
You might also have fears about recurrence (the cancer coming back). While many people find that these fears eventually go away, they often come up again when something reminds them of the cancer or its treatment. For example, seeing someone else with bruised arms from injections may remind you of the bruises on your arms from chemotherapy injections. Or hearing news stories about breast cancer may bring back memories of your own diagnosis and treatment.
If you’re having trouble coping with these feelings or if they seem overwhelming at times:
- Reach out for help from friends and family members who understand what you’re going through; ask them for support in specific ways that would be most helpful to you now—you might need someone just listen quietly while sharing their own experience with breast cancer; but sometimes just being able to talk openly can be very helpful too!
- Practice mindfulness meditation, which has been shown in research studies as effective at reducing stress levels by helping improve focus during activities like exercise or walking outside on a nice day (instead of working inside all day around computers). There are many kinds available online such as Headspace or Calm apps, so check out those options first before investing money into something new just yet!
- Consider joining support groups once again since talking face-to-face sometimes works better than typing words onto screens–especially if there are any other survivors nearby who’d want to join us too!
Breast cancer is a life-changing experience. Don’t avoid your emotions—they are valid! You may feel afraid or angry about the diagnosis or treatment side effects. These feelings are normal and expected! Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Talk about your fears with healthcare providers, licensed mental health professionals, trusted friends or other survivors. Practice mindfulness or meditation to help you deal with stressors in your daily life.
You got this. xoxo