Impact and coping

Nothing can prepare anyone for the statement “I’m sorry but you’ve got breast cancer”.

The feelings of shock, numbness and fear are all common responses to a diagnosis of breast cancer. Sharing feelings, even painful feelings with others can help women cope with their diagnosis. Whatever the reaction, every woman deserves hope, because today breast cancer is much more treatable if it’s diagnosed early.  In this section, you'll find information on:

Understanding feelings
Getting Support
Managing anxiety

Understanding feelings
It's normal to feel worried, stressed and afraid about a diagnosis of breast cancer. You may feel unsure about what happens next as well as day-to-day concerns like managing work, children and other responsibilities while undergoing treatment. Questions like ‘will I lose my hair?’, ‘what will happen to my breasts?’ ‘what will my partner think?' and 'will I survive?' might prey on your mind. Young women diagnosed with breast cancer often express feelings like:

• I'm too young to get this - it’s unfair
• I have young children, a career or a family to care for. I just don't have time for this in my life right now
• I want to have children - what will happen to me now?
• I don’t know how to tell my children, family and friends
• What will happen at work and how will this will affect my income?
• I haven’t met my life partner yet or how will I tell my partner?
• What will this do to my body image and sexuality?
• I look after myself, eat well, exercise, there is no history of cancer in my family - why me?

Most women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. Only 5-10% of breast cancers are deemed hereditary due to a faulty gene.

Get support
While dealing with an immediate diagnosis of breast cancer, women sometimes need additional support.  Looking after yourself is the number one priority. Do what feels right for you, put yourself first for once. Sleep if you are tired and cry if you need too. If you find that after a few weeks you are still not coping, talk to your doctor. Do not hide from people if you need a hand.

There are many different sources of care:
• Your treatment team can provide support and advice
• Sharing feelings with your partner or another family member or friend can be helpful
• Some women find it helpful to talk to other women who have experienced breast cancer
• Some women seek help from a specialist or ask for counselling to help with anxiety.

Read or watch how other New Zealand women coped with their diagnosis and what got them through.
Breast Cancer Support, a network of women with breast cancer, offers a 24-hour, all year toll free line 0800 273 222.
If you would like to speak to a Breast Care Nurse at the New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation, call 0800 BCNURSE.
Check out our support section or look for services near you on our online directory.

Managing anxiety
It’s important to focus on where you are at right now, not to think and plan too many steps ahead. An overload of information about breast cancer and treatment options may be too much to deal with at once. Take it one step at a time and don't look too far ahead. Try and make decisions when you need too. If it's early stage breast cancer, don't feel pressured to make decisions overnight.

"It was a huge shock. My husband and I read everything we could about breast cancer and we convinced ourselves that I would have a lumpectomy. When the specialist then said, 'Oh no, you will need a full mastectomy', that was a shock too and we learned some valuable lessons: take one step at a time, don't look too far ahead, make decisions when you need to and don't read too much into things."  Larissa (diagnosed at 34).

Coping tips:
• Don't rush any major decisions. Advice recommended by other young women is to 'take your time'
• Take a support person to critical appointments to help you understand the advice
• Write down questions in a notebook (as you think of them) prior to appointments: keep asking the question until you receive a response you are happy with.
• Gather information, write it down, process it, discuss it and ask questions. Set up a breast cancer ringbinder so you can keep everything in one place.
• Talk it out with those you trust: your partner, your Mum, your best friend.
• In the early stages of the journey, there's a lot of 'waiting' for results or for something to happen - so organise a daily 'something to look forward to' - a coffee with friends, a movie or a walk. This will give your body, soul and spirit a break
• Feeling exhausted, low and depressed can go hand in hand with a cancer diagnosis. Try to convey these feelings to your partner and supporters. There may be times when you just want to be alone. Let them know. If feelings of depression become too deep and you can't cope, ask your medical team to refer you on for some professional help. This is one time in your life when you might not be able to manage all by yourself and there is no shame in admitting that you can't.
• Most of us try to figure out why we got breast cancer. The exact causes of breast cancer are unknown so try not to over think the ‘why’ of cancer.  Above all, be kind and gentle to yourself.
  "Being in control where you can be is important, even if it's just little things..."   Larissa

Some women need to look outside of their usual life patterns to find something new to help them relax. Yoga is a wonderful technique that stretches the body and muscles, gives flexibility and helps the mind and body to relax. For some people yoga helps the recovery process while helping the participant to learn a new way of exercising the whole body. Meditation for some is the way. Maybe you are a comedy person who needs a good laugh in order to relax.

You will go through different stages before, during and after treatment. Allow yourself to accept each stage but if you find that you are unable to cope or feel you cannot ‘get out of it’, talk to someone, ask for help.